Surprise! I am not a fan of horse-blinders, headless ostriches, or one-tree forests. I am not a fan of shallow, baseless rhetoric or opinion unless it is cleverly woven with satire and parody. Nor am I a fan of closed systems and strong-armed boxing in. Are you asking “What on Earth is he going on about?” Fair question.
What 2017 will become for Americans, and hopefully to a minimal extent the world, will be or has been partly determined by 2015-16, the state-of-the-Union and its unionists today, and what will result in 2018 and 2019 based on the past and present. This is the final post from the previous: 2016: Cries for Mutiny.
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The Past Two Years
2015 and 2016 in America saw many economic, political, social, and scientific headlines, many good as there were bad. Following are some of the biggest and in my opinion most impactful relative to the well-being of all U.S. citizens and citizens to be.
Racism, lethal violence, and gun-control, and so by default our nation’s outrageous incarceration rate, seems to never go away. The mass shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, a popular LGBT club, were two of the deadliest shootings in recent history. The Charleston Church shooting was reportedly motivated by a 21-year old white supremacist charged with 33 counts including murder, firearms charges, and federal hate-crime charges. The murderer’s beliefs prompted continued debate over the state’s long history of flying the 19th century Confederate Battle Flag atop the state capitol building. This shooting and other similar shootings in the U.S. including the Pulse nightclub—and Roseburg, Lafayette, Chattanooga, Planned Parenthood, San Bernardino—ignited again the still never-ending controversy of racism and gun-control.
The phrase Black Lives Matter became a common trending 2015 hashtag on social media following events such as the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray while in custody. Increased police violence and killing continued throughout 2016, primarily toward or effecting African-Americans, shockingly suggesting that the end of the American Civil War in 1865, the ratification of the 13th Amendment also in 1865, then decades later historical victories by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s never happened! It seriously begs the question whether basic human rights in America have really taken firm roots after 151 years!
On a high note, in 2015 June 26th, the White House vowed its support for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in favor of marriage equality for same-sex couples. President Obama remarked:
“In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision.”
But American history has shown that simple moral, ethical equality for all is still far from established, practiced, and protected within our national borders, e.g. Texas Rep. Andrew Murr in my previous post. And America is not always so embracing when it comes to foreigners and foreign affairs, despite what Lady Liberty is supposed to symbolize to the world.
The European refugee crisis from war-torn nations like Syria have been an embarrassing blemish across Lady Liberty and all Americans. Tens of thousands of people fleeing from the Middle East and Africa learned harshly just how paranoid and apathetic the United States has become. Germany, Sweden, and the U.K. on the other hand opened up their arms wide taking in far more than President Obama’s plan to allow 10,000. Other foreign aid into those warring nations reached all-time highs and lows for the international community despite U.S. peace and refusal talks. Yet, these refugee figures come out of European and American sources — the numbers are anywhere between 1.1 to 4.4 million refugees in African nations, ironically where some of the poorest nations in the world are located. Hmmmm.
The U.S. economy made several headlines as well, no surprise given the upcoming Presidential primaries and election in 2016. The federal deficit indeed shrunk over 2015. The final figures came in at $439 billion, about $45 billion less than in 2014. Employment rose, unemployment fell, and for the first time in the past 7-years, 2015’s real hourly pay climbed faster than 2%. Good news, yes. However, America’s widening zip code inequality continued to rise as poverty and a lack of upward mobility became not just social and economic problems, they became bigger geographical ones too. American living standards only saw limited gains creating a false illusion of recovery. This was reflected by a contraction of aggregate supply rather than a strong expansion of demand, all according to the Brookings Institute. Therefore, now is an easy segway into America’s federal politics and “Election 2016″… a campaign year that would go down in history as infamous, to put it mildly.
In an April 2015 two-minute video, Democrat Hillary Clinton announced her anticipated second run for president. With Democratic candidates Sanders and Clinton set, the race for the Republican nomination became a wild free-for-all. Another Bush from Florida entered the race, Jeb Bush, along with no less than 15 others, including the TV-reality star and business mogul Donald Trump. From that point on, the fiery “You’re Fired!” TV personality turned the campaigns into polarizing, even comical, reality shows. Soon after, as if to get in line for the next blockbuster show, rapper Kanye West proclaimed he would run in the 2020 presidential election. Why not! Come one, come all. No experience necessary.
In November 2016, what can only be described as a stunning outcome, Trump won not the popular vote, but the Electoral College vote to become the 45th President of the United States. Yes, the rest of the world was shocked, not shocked, and Vladimir Putin and Russia loved it.
In late 2016 the Brookings Institute spoke about Trump’s economic team forecasting doubled long-term GDP as “unrealistic.”
“Labor force growth is slowing to a crawl. The population is aging, the dramatic advance of women into the labor market is waning, and male participation has been declining for decades. We will be lucky if the labor force grows by 0.5 percent a year. That means labor productivity growth would have to grow by 3 percent a year. Over the past decade, it grew by just over 1 percent. So the Trump administration seems to be assuming that they can more than double productivity growth. So, is a near-doubling of the GDP growth rate realistic? No. But even if it were, it would be less important than ensuring that whatever growth we have is more equally distributed. But let’s assume we can bump up the growth rate. Even then, unless something is done to ensure that growth is more broadly distributed, the average American is unlikely to benefit very much. This lesson was reinforced recently by the release of new data showing that, on average, if you were born in 1940, you had a 90 percent chance of being better off than your parents, but the odds fell to 50 percent if you were born in the 1980s. Both lower growth and rising inequality contributed to this depressing story for today’s younger generations. In addition, the study—by Raj Chetty and colleagues—found that more equally distributing growth would be more effective at improving the average person’s life chances than simply restoring GDP growth to its golden years’ rate. In fact, in today’s lopsided economy, it would take a growth rate of more than 6 percent to revive the income trajectories experienced by middle class children in 1940.”
But don’t fret too much America. There are some very bright spots from 2015-16!
A shattered chromosome cured a woman of her immune disease then reassembled. This is known as chromothripsis, possibly paving the way for therapies against a variety of human diseases. 2015 saw the dawn of gene editing, the rise of immunotherapy and the first hints of a drug to slow the pace of Alzheimer’s disease. NASA’s Kepler telescope found 1,284 new planets of which nine could plausibly support human life. About 800-million years ago a slight genetic mutation lead to multicellular life on Earth. An ancient molecule known as GK-PID was discovered to be the reason single-celled organisms on Earth started evolving into multicellular organisms we have today. In mathematics a new prime number was discovered, further expanding and enhancing encryption programming: the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. Then perhaps one of the biggest headline for medical science in 2016 was made by the Stanford University School of Medicine! Stem cells injected into stroke patients re-enabled patients to walk again.
Finally and on the faith vs. science debate, cavefish were found that could walk up walls. This showed similarities to four-limbed vertebrates. The New Jersey Institute of Technology discovered a Taiwanese Cavefish that is capable of walking up walls with the same anatomical movement as any present-day amphibian or reptile. And in the state of Utah, the Black Dragon Canyon rock-art debate was finally solved! Due to pterosaur fossils being found in the area, young-Earth creationists — who believe our planet to be only 6,000 to 10,000 years old — have relentlessly cited the rock-painting as proof that humans and the winged reptiles had walked the region together. Archaeological chemist Dr. Marvin Rowe using “a photographic enhancement program known as DStretch and a technique called x-ray fluorescence,” completely debunked the creationist’s claim of the art.
There were many, many more major breakthroughs in medicine, history, and science for 2015-16 that simply could not all be listed here. Apologies.
The reviews are mixed about 2017. No surprise, right? It’s only January.
However, from a U.S. economic standpoint, the fiscal outlook for America’s “new POTUS” plans are not promising, says the Brookings Institute, and “it is likely to get worse soon.“
“The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that Trump’s tax and spending proposals – the latter including replacing the Affordable Care Act, modifying Medicaid, boosting military spending, and enacting savings in non-defense programs – imply that the debt will rise to 105 percent of GDP by 2026. The CRFB report leaves out any estimate of increased infrastructure spending, which Trump has said he would like to increase by roughly $1 trillion over a decade. Including that would add further to the debt figures.”
From a political standpoint, never before has the spirit of true, pure equality for ALL Americans been so threatened (e.g. 2016: Cries for Mutiny), arguably weakened the last 2-3 decades. Racism and hate-crimes littered our nation’s news media and if 2015-16 is any barometer, it isn’t going away anytime soon in 2017. For here and now and the sake of time, I am going to focus on sex-gender identities only.
Notwithstanding the obvious growing social trend of sex-gender equality across many states, the political-Conservative representation and processes, for various reasons, progressed at snail-paces. It took the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court, after four pivotal landmark decisions—Lawrence v. Texas (2003), United States v. Windsor (2013), Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013), and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)—to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Can you say it took not an act of Congress, but the gavel of the Supreme Court to finally follow its majority of people!?
From the social and scientific standpoints then, the future in America has wider glimmers of hope. Since 1991 the work of doctors and scientists — like Dr. Simon LeVay and medical/university colleagues across Massachusetts and New York with their supporting universities and clinics through 2001 — has led to the progression and evolution of tangible better understandings of sex-gender dynamics. For example, in 2006 the Council for Responsible Genetics reported:
“We are sexual beings, yet this does not mean that we are born homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Our sexual expression can change over time, towards different people, through different experiences. A lack of understanding about this type of human variability often leads to a perspective that our genes define who we are.
…Yet a narrow focus on the variability of sexual expression threatens to cloud the issue altogether. Without giving proper attention to the mutability of human sexual expression, questions regarding its origins and character cannot be answered. Without giving proper attention to the mutability of human sexual expression, questions regarding its origins and character cannot be answered.”
“For men, new research suggests that clues to sexual orientation may lie not just in the genes, but in the spaces between the DNA, where molecular marks instruct genes when to turn on and off and how strongly to express themselves.”
In individuals, said[UCLA molecular biologist Tuck C.]Ngun, the presence of these distinct molecular marks can predict homosexuality with an accuracy of close to 70%.
Researchers working in the young science of epigenetics acknowledge they are unsure just how an individual’s epigenome is formed. But they increasingly suspect it is forged, in part, by the stresses and demands of external influences. A set of chemical marks that lies between the genes, the epigenome changes the function of genetic material, turning the human body’s roughly 20,000 protein-coding genes on or off in response to the needs of the moment.
“Our best guess is that there are genes” that affect a man’s sexual orientation “because that’s what twin studies suggest,” said Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey, who has explored a range of physiological markers that point to homosexuality’s origins in the womb. But the existence of identical twin pairs in which only one is homosexual “conclusively suggest that genes don’t explain everything,” Bailey added.”
—Scientists find DNA differences between gay men and their straight twin brothers, by Melissa Healy – LA Times, October 2015
Stepping back from any one tree and examining the genetic or epigenetic forest strongly suggests that ancient and long-standing social-theological traditions of strictly an unbending binary paradigm in post-modern Europe and modern America are fast fading into fallacy. For the future growth of higher human virtues and education, this is great news!
This very month one of the most iconic American magazines, National Geographic, released their double-issues on the gender revolution. Since I can remember over the last 25+ years, this bold highly controversial step by a world-renown organization is long overdue in the U.S.! It paints the reality of the changing social stigma of sex-gender identity bringing it to our public squares to define the correct precise terms so misunderstood, and looks closely at the cultural, political, social, and most importantly the biological aspects! These are must copies for your personal library.
Topics the magazines cover include Helping Families Talk About Gender, Girls, Boys, and Gendered Toys, the power and influence of our society’s binaryColor Code on American children, a deeper look into children’s animated films of popular characters: Who’s the Fairest?, a detailed graph of Where In the World Are Women and Men Most-and Least-Equal, candid first-hand reports from 9-year olds around the globe of How (in their countries) Gender Affects Their Lives, Rethinking Gender: Can Science Help Us Navigate?, and then the lengthy article, Making A Man: How Does A 21st-century Boy Reach Manhood? that I found astonishing. And those articles and graphs are merely the first-half of the first magazine!
“Enveloped by the men of his family and Hasidic faith, Levi Tiechtel celebrates his 13th birthday at his bar mitzvah in Queens, New York. For millenia, Jews have been performing this ritual, which commemorates the[supposed]age when a male becomes accountable for his own actions and sins.”
—Making A Man: How Does A 21st-century Boy Reach Manhood?, January 2017 National Geographic, pp 86-87.
From 800 BCE Sparta to 1930 Italy and United States, “cultures have devised[not genetics or epigenetics necessarily]myriad practices and rituals to make boys into men. The methods — often secret and sacred — vary widely and continually evolve, says cultural anthropologist Gilbert Herdt. But they also share some universal themes that broadly reflect a community’s values and the roles its men are expected to play.” At such a young malleable age, in several cultures around the world, America included, it makes the decision to conform or not conform daunting or near impossible until perhaps an older age of increased independence and exposure to the world’s endless variety.
The Possible-Probable Forecast
Based on what I’ve written in this post and previous posts, my life experiences as an 8th-generation Texan as well as American, my 28-year futebol-soccer career across 4-of-the-6 inhabitable continents exposed and engrossed to a multitude of native cultures, the copiousness and curse of the internet, and my unconventional journey from young agnostic, to evangelical-fundamental Reformed theology with church leadership and practice, back toward a Freethinking Humanist today… and now an evolving, learning, and hopefully teaching social-sciences from basic chemistry to Quantum Physics, I would say the next 2-6 years in the United States looks promising through several lenses on the social and scientific fronts, but ominous on the economic and political battlefields. Why?
After 241-years as a nation and about 182 for Texas, we have nurtured the freedom to continually push the envelope of social refinement and scientific exploration, granted in pockets of the country, while also nurturing the fear of change and the consumer rewards of self-reliance and exclusion. When we examine the entire American forest over the lifetime of our nation, we stand at a pivotal ridge on our future’s horizon. Either we embrace a bigger global community, reverse the return or nuisance of old uncivilized ideologies which have crept or will creep back in, and instead keep pushing the scientific thresholds… else we risk increased fragmentation, polarization, and socioeconomic collapse in a few more generations, if not sooner.
I hope my seat behind this windshield and the view through my/our rearview mirror is different or temporarily malfunctioning! (half laughing, half nervous)
Tell me your thoughts and suggestions below. Whether you are American or not, I’d like to read them.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
As some of you may have noticed, I have not been around WordPress and my blog as much as before. Lately, finding time to imagine, consider, research, ponder, gather images, then type away in a format and style that is minimally interesting for you and acceptable quality for me has been near non-existent. Well, not true exactly. I could do it late in the evening when I’m fatigued and must nevertheless wake just before sunrise or daybreak whether my mind and body want to or not. And since my last blog-post was June 9th you can see how well that is working. What is going on you ask as you all are banging down my front door? (sarcasm) What has changed?
Life apart from the world-wide-web. Life beyond the internet and technology. Organic life of which sometimes/often affords us little time of our own. The epilogue of one life, the pre-epilogue of another life (my life) and the prime of lives for others, loved ones. This is what has changed.
“The Earlier Revision Needs Revising”
Around 1997 shortly after marrying, Mom and her second older (and quite wealthy) husband found a luscious 2,850-ish sq. ft. Ranchita-home on 10.5 acres on top a big hill overlooking the Guadalupe River. The vistas from inside the house through 34 windows or outside on the large back-patio shaded or semi-shaded, with daily or every other day or evening southerly breezes… are the stuff of epic tranquility and living. For two hard-working retirees, it was a dream come true.
And then as they say, Nothing stays the same.
Mom has been widowed since 2006. For a few years after her late husband’s crippling heart-attack which put him in a wheelchair and months later his decline and death, she took the time to enjoy her life more, travel, and spend more time with good friends and family. She absolutely deserved it! She bought a newly used 32-foot RV or mobile home to travel the U.S. However, while doing these five years of domestic and world touring the home and property they loved so much became increasingly neglected. Meanwhile, one of those good male friends became a “very good friend.” They traveled together everywhere. Very good at first, but whose title gradually changed over the last four years to infrequent companion given later developments. Circumstances for romance and the altar which seemed unimportant then, became very important. Nine years later it can be deduced that Cupid’s Arrow — with attached gold ring — had in the end missed its mark.
Another development of which I have shared and posted about here a number of times is that of my sister and her 35+ years of drug addiction, rehab, relapse, law-enforcement, incarceration, repeat ad nauseam. Over the last six years this has really taken a toll on Mom’s mental and physical health. While I was up in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area teaching Special Ed, the plan for Mom, my sister (who moved to the Texas Hill Country very soon after Mom and her husband moved here), and Mom’s “very good man-friend” was to begin serious preparations from the inside of the house to the outside and all over the property to sell the house soon. Of course, the very good man-friend (living over 2-hours away) was not going to be capable of helping more than 2-times a month or less — he had to maintain his cattle ranch of 1,500 acres that he does all by himself! Therefore, in reality it was up to my perpetually recovering sister and my 76-year old Mom. HAH!
Five years later and after finishing the 2014-2015 school year in DFW, I make my summer return to help out. In complete shock I find my sister has moved in with Mom! Anyone who has dealt with acute drug-alcohol addiction of over 3-decades knows that addicts MUST BE at the very least in a daily and weekly program, routine, and support group! Mom’s hilltop retirement resort is the very last place any addict needs to be living — there has been no consistent structure and set schedule for Mom since, hell… 1995! Furthermore, she is not even close to being a qualified licensed A&D counselor! Simply put my Mom not only cannot handle my sister’s addictive pathology, manipulation, and regular relapses, she’s not mentally or emotionally strong enough or cunning enough to manage an addict! On top of this defective lousy living situation, not hardly anything is getting accomplished toward the sale of the house and property.
I become infuriated.
What soon follows about two months later is my sister’s gradual ump-teenth relapse. Due to the pressing overwhelming work and tasks that must get done first in order to sell the house and property, Mom’s inability to PUSH my sister to stay consistent and accountable to an AA/NA and MHMR (mental health rehabs) program, and her hilltop retirement resort being 4-miles outside of town making Mom her only real transportation anywhere… my sister was doomed to relapse anyway! I find out a few weeks into my return that my sister actually moved-in the previous December! By February 2016 sister has relapsed badly, again, and this time the county sheriff’s department and TDCJ (Texas Dept of Criminal Justice) are done being merciful. She is sentenced to 9-months in their penal drug-rehab program — now the only and last hope for her.
I am now BEYOND infuriated! No wonder the house and property have not been significantly maintained or prepped! I was never told because they both knew how I would react. Funny how we manifest our repeated thoughts and fears.
At the end of June 2016 while at a wine-n-snack get-together with good local friends, Mom unloads to everyone the precise timeline of her absolute move-out: April 2017 or sooner. How did we lose 5-years when she told me in December 2015 — relative to her retirement funds and trust-fund — it would last through 2021? Everything, except Social Security and her small monthly Mobile Oil pension, runs out next April. I thought my entire upper body just dropped into my stomach when she announced her deadline. This was not good at all given how much needed to be done to and inside the house. I’m thinking to myself trying not to appear distraught to everyone… What if the house doesn’t sell for what it’s worth these next 9-10 months!?
Days later I ask Mom if she’s got any better idea and plan as to where she will move and live. She is no closer to those decisions than she was a year ago. Given everything she’s had to deal with concerning my god-damn sister, it’s understandable.
The original revised plan has to be revised again.
My original plans for a continued life up in the DFW area will have to be put on hold. My regular routine to blog, consider, research, write, and comment must also be reduced or postponed.
Aging and the Aged
The end of this life is inevitable. Everyone is approaching it the day we are born and take our first breath. The average American lifespan is around 78-years old; 76 (I believe) for a man, 81-83 for a woman. Therefore, somewhere around our 40’s is the halfway point. In the better scenarios the late 40’s. As those older dear ones and loved ones begin to pass away around you, one cannot help but reevaluate, reflect, and remember what makes us truly alive so that death isn’t so painfully unwelcomed. What should our final decade of life be? Of what should it consist?
Mom, July 2014
These last four years I have noticed how much more my Mom has aged. If this rate continues, she is in her last 5-7 years — and that might be optimistic. And that reality forces me to pause and prepare. It forces me to reevaluate, reflect, and remember what, on a soulful level, is TRULY important. For that single reason… death should not be such a total stranger.
Over the last six years I have gotten to know my Mom in ways and to levels I likely would not have been able living 5-hours and 320-miles away 300-days a year. Many of those days have been fun and hilarious — her senility can be quite entertaining along with her sense of humor that has enjoyably not waned as a result. Though I am increasingly managing and helping her with her weekly and monthly responsibilities, these last couple years have noticeably aged me. For all intents and purposes, I am becoming a one-man team if not already there. And this will probably not change anytime soon, or it could change tomorrow… all things considered. (line break)
Do you have aging or aged parents? What have been or what are your experiences? How does it effect your own life? Why do family members these days live so far apart? I may not be able to quickly reply to your thoughts and comments, but I am curious to read them if you’re inclined to share!
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
Finally! It’s here. The end. The last part! You are welcome to laugh with me, please. I am. Find a lounge chair, this is the last epic(?) post in persnickety. 😉
A Quick Prologue
I am completely aware that this post is over 11,000 words long. It is extensive to say the least. But I’ve written this much because I feel all the points covered are important, no, critical to drive home just how much day-in and day-out we humans miss so much detail, so much little and large bits of intrigue, mystery, and unrealized joy waiting to be seized and experienced. I encourage you to read the entire post. Read it in portions over two or three days, but please complete the entire post. There is likely something new for you that you had never considered which might catapult your existence into an entirely new dimension.
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Previously in Untapped Worlds – Retooling I closed with two suggestions. The first was to realize what compersion is and is not, and how we should embody its fullest meaning. Embracing a mostexpansive form of compersion is critical. The second suggestion plays off the first. While learning exactly what compersion means, open the flood gates of your lifestyle and deathstyle. Yes, you read correctly. Make your life practically inseparable from death! Sounds spooky and insane doesn’t it? Sounds contradictory doesn’t it? Shush! Hold on…
Put aside tendencies to understand death literally. Put aside for a moment the fear and obscurity civilization’s foreboding institutions have trained your brain to “escape” and disengage death. Now let’s ask the question once again, What does it mean to be more human?
What is personality? How it is formed. Is it set in granite from birth or is it molded throughout stages of life? In my May 2013 post DRD4-7R I shared what geneticists had found as the chemical brain messenger — the 7R variant of DRD4 — linked to curiosity and restlessness found in 20% of the population. This would suggest that a newborn infant comes with a basic blueprint, but one which expands (or retracts) in stages based upon external stimuli or influences, but interpreted by the internal (neurogenetical) reckoning birth-print. Many modern cardiologists and addictionologists would argue not a basic birthprint, but a familial-print or hereditary-print. Religious clergy, rabbis, and imam/ulama most certainly take it much further. They fall on the side of the ‘granite’ birthprint.
The spectrum of personality’s origin and expression probably falls somewhere in between the two extremes of the nomothetic and idiographic schools. Personally, I fall squarely toward the idiographic for two major reasons. One, human conception and gestation lasts only about 9-months. Granted, there is no denying that those genes passed down from approximately 500,000 generations over the last 200,000 years (start of Homo sapiens only), after those 9-months the experiential influences such as culture, social, and situational factors then interact over an average lifespan of 71-years by today’s figures. Two, psychological states such as PTSD clearly and unequivocally reveal just how sweeping an impact external factors effect personality.
As I also covered in Untapped Worlds – An Intro and Departure, the first two parts of the series, the human brain and body are quite malleable by environment and individually reckoned by our neurogenetic familial-print. As science becomes increasingly useful for verifying the Nature of life it shows the human brain and body are less influenced by general or monistic laws of exoteric or esoteric existence. Human personality is significantly formed and moved like a river which to exist requires tributaries, a landscape, a mouth, and its sea or ocean.
James G. Ballard. Abraham Lincoln. Or the some thousands listed in the Fathers Hall of Fame at the National Center for Fathering who did or now live and practice intimate intensive relationships nurturing and expanding their domestic responsibilities. There are a cut of men, fathers, who make great mothers. Many of them are single, waking early to make breakfast, drive their kids to school or extracurricular activities, and then in the late afternoon do the same and get them to bed. Repeat in the morning.
I did all the domestic duties for a year-and-a-half with my two children; one 7-years of age at the time, the other our newborn just home from hospital. Those 18-months were without a doubt the most exhausting and fulfilling times of my life. I will never again take for granted what millions of mothers do day in and day out. They never get near as much acclaim as they should.
A Lost History of the Full Household
How many of you men or fathers have managed a household with multiple children? Can you remember those late late nights and wee-morning hours? Sleep? What sleep.
Managing a romance and a household is really beyond a full-time job. It is your own small business but with your entire life savings, retirement, prospective growth-plan, budget, and all three areas of personal health invested… for better or worse. Talk about walking the edge, the fine line, it’s more than enough to put many a man into panic mode. Dads of the West Congo, called the Aka Pygmies, know exactly what I’m speaking about. The Arapesh of New Guinea also know. In the African Ituri the Mbuti are superb fathers. In Tahiti women can be chiefs of their entire tribe! What we industrialized workaholic Westerners see as primitive, they share all responsibilities of child-rearing and parenting equally; right down the middle. In some cases the fathers happily do more! In these “primitive” cultures, sharing domestic duties are not determined by biology or gender. That is a foreign concept. Their dynamic lives are full of everything humanly possible. Parenting and romance to them are embraced art forms in the same context and pragmatism as their neighboring animal counterparts. Long ago the peoples of the Western hemisphere had the same setups. But three major events changed the family households for centuries to come.
The industrial revolution was the first culprit of the household’s demise. In a mechanized civilization long setup to serve/benefit the males, the Western nations would soon see the wide-ranging consequences of fatherless households. The other contributing events were birth-control and rightly so Feminism. With these three changes came a complete revamping of Western families. But recently slight changes have started a small return to our specie’s natural equal roles. In Sweden fathers get 1-year off for paternity leave, unpaid. Though only around 14% of the leave is actually used, it is a percentage that is slowly growing.
Expanding and returning a man’s domestic roles are required. In those parts of the post-Industrial Revolution world like the U.S., it is more dire given our domestic violence, criminal, divorce, and homeless statistics. Since the early 19th century overhaul of the old traditional households, returning the husband/father back home seems today like an Untapped World.
How many elderly people have you heard reminiscing of lost family dinners and family time together? How many people do you know, myself included, that enjoy and look forward to family meals of an hour or more? What about for family reunions?
In our American culture of convenience, declining motion due to pay-others-to-do-it, and less patience for perceived problems, have we lost the benefits of friction-to-resolution which leads to a growing art of deeper adaptable conversation and understanding? Family conflicts are rarely solved unless people learn to talk WITH one another not at, and investing the necessary time and energy to do so. But how accurate are our great grandparents memories of a family closeness gone by?
Lost family time is probably a figment of the imagination by earlier generations. Before or after the industrial revolution, birth-control, and Feminism three historical barriers kept families detached:
Segregation. From Socratic Greece to Europe’s Black Death and industrialization, to the Nuer of East Africa or the Baikairi of Amazon, one’s age and gender determined what you could or couldn’t do with the men and family.
Silence. Foreign visitors to Elizabethan England, Beatrice Gottlieb writes, were silent occasions. Italian etiquette dictated that ‘talk is not for the table, but for the piazza.’ And the Rule of St. Benedict taught ‘days are to be spent in silent prayer, avoiding evil words and conduct’, and family meals were for listening to Scripture readings in reverence of God, not idle talk. The same reverent silence was found among Quakers and Buddhists of the time.
Emotional repression. By the 18th century the social norm of European conversation was one of intellect and wit turned into an eloquent social art to be displayed. One’s plumes could be presented in such coffeehouses where educated MEN could gather and match their show with colleagues about politics, business, art, literature, and current science. One such example was Turk’s Head Tavern, Soho, where women and children were strictly prohibited.
If 18th century social conversation was about cerebral edification for the men, the 19th century was about hidden emotions scratching, clawing, and pushing out the nails and hinges of their locked basement doors. There is much irony found in the title-given period: the Romantic Movement. Though we find glimmers of primal passion in the poetry of Coleridge and Keats, for example, open displays of affection and emotions by men were reserved for paper only. Expressions of such raw instincts was considered irrational and a lack of masculinity! This was absolutely the case at home during family dinners at the table. All topics and conversation were lead and managed by the man of the house. The childhood and life of John Stuart Mill is a sad ‘family’ testimony of the repressed Victorian Era represented by his father.
Expanding Sympathy into Deep Empathy
Many might feel the Golden Rule catches the essence of empathy: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Though it is a popular notion, it is not concentrated properly. It centers on you — your own experience, your own subjective views — and thus how you feel you should be treated apart from a wider general view or consensus. The Golden Rule falls quite short. Empathy requires much more. It requires putting yourself into their life, their shoes, and metaphorically (or literally?) walking in them 100-miles.
Claiborne Paul Ellis (aka C.P. Ellis) was born into an impoverished North Carolina white family in 1927. His father was a white supremacist and active member of the Ku Klux Klan. C.P. inherited all of his father’s world-views and like Adolf Hitler hated all Jews, C.P. blamed all blacks for his socio-economic and occupational woes, indirectly the birth of his own youngest son born blind and mentally impaired, and finally despised the civil rights movement all throughout the South and his native state. When a $78,000 federal grant was given to North Carolina to aid in public school desegregation, as acting president of Durham County’s KKK chapter C.P. was asked how to spend it. Ironically Ellis was elected a member of that committee along with civil right activist Ann Atwater. What followed is nothing short of spectacular:
Because of a simple 10-days long collaboration at the same table as your “hated enemy”, your entire world-view and life can be overturned and done with the most incredible benefits: spending quality-quantity time with other humans, especially those very different than you, and a lifelong friendship begun. C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater are proof that truer unabridged empathy unites.
Love and Compersion
A historically conservative United States as well as some similar nation-cultures have a general and quite limited notion of love and how it can be more fully received and expressed. The ancient Greeks had no such constraints but one. They recognized at least six varieties of love. Roman Krznaric, an author, cultural philosopher, professor of sociology and politics at Cambridge University and City University, London, and advisor to the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change, describes these six Greek forms of love — notice the difference of Athenian eros versus modern notions of love or romance:
Eros – The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. But the Greeks didn’t always think of it as something positive, as we tend to today. In fact, eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you — an attitude shared by many later spiritual thinkers, such as the Christian writer C.S. Lewis. Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Which is odd, because losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship. Don’t we all hope to fall “madly” in love?
Philia – The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of eros. Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them. (Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, embodied the love between parents and their children.) We can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely philia love we have in our lives. It’s an important question in an age when we attempt to amass “friends” on Facebook or ‘followers’ on Twitter — achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.
Ludus – This was the Greek’s idea of playful love, which referred to the playful affection between children or young lovers. We’ve all had a taste of it in the flirting and teasing in the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we sit around in a bar bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go out dancing. Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for sex itself. Social norms frown on this kind of adult playful frivolity, but a little more ludus might be just what we need to spice up our love lives.
Agape – The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word charity. Lewis referred to it as “gift love,” the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or “universal loving kindness” in Theravāda Buddhism. There is growing evidence that agape is in a dangerous decline in many countries. Empathy levels in the U.S. have dropped nearly 50 percent over the past 40 years, with the steepest fall occurring in the past decade. We urgently need to revive our capacity to care about strangers.
Pragma – Another Greek love was pragma or mature love. This was the deep understanding that developed between long-married couples. It was about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on “falling in love” and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” Pragma is precisely about standing in love — making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. With divorce rates currently running at 50 percent, the Greeks would surely think we should bring a serious dose of pragma into our relationships.
Philautia – The final variety of love was philautia or self-love. The clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed, and focused on gaining personal fame and fortune. A healthier version of philautia enhanced your wider capacity to love. The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (today this is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself.”
And that is compersion.
What struck me the most about the Greek’s emotional diversity was they sought it, embraced it, and refined it in its many forms with a wide-range of people, not just one. They extended it to friends, colleagues, immediate and extended family, spouses, lovers, strangers, and equally to themselves! Krznaric goes on to explain that this approach to human connection would be practically unrecognizable in today’s social circles — or relentlessly chastised for its pluralism and depth. The ancient Greeks would be shocked by our extreme narrow-mindedness and ideals.
Another modern extension of the Greek philia love (or pseudo-storge?) is the little known form of compersion. This love-form also combines possible sexual (eros) and/or emotional joy (philia) discovered outside a traditional binary monogamous commitment, but the compersive joy is experienced by the Giver or the one not literally participating within the outside relationship of their partner/spouse. The Urban Dictionary gives an excellent commentary stating:
“Compersion can be thought of as the opposite of “jealousy;” it is a positive emotional reaction to a loved one’s other relationship. It is analogous to the feeling of joy a parent feels when their children marry or that best friends feel for each other when they are happy in a romantic relationship.”
Personally, I have experienced this form of love numerous times not only with my own children, but with several of my partners and a spouse. The deepest impact it had for me was not just the pleasure and joy I had watching mesmerized by her unfiltered primal passions lost in the moment, but also how profoundly gracious she was for my comfortable willingness to indirectly enjoy it with her. “I have never known” she described “that level, that form of liberation — without any shame or fear — or deeper sharing-companionship with any man!” She fell into the soft couch as if all her breath was taken while melting in pure bliss and awe how much I loved seeing her so happy. This deeper love was ‘returned’ to me several times as well, and she raved about how pleasurable it was for her. That wasn’t all either. We both learned other aspects of each other we may have NEVER discovered on our own, together as a closed-off couple. What followed for us was the strongest trust and bond either had ever experienced. Gone was one social-romantic stigma neither of us had to fear anymore.
Yes indeed, a fictitous dragon was slain. A previously unchartered Untapped World now tapped.
Living vs. Alive
Should an extraterrestrial scientist decide to study the human species and our daily routines, it would quickly realize that a few similar mechanized devices were the cornerstone of our organization. Case and point, the Lilliputians examining Gulliver:
“Out of the right fob hung a great silver chain, with a wonderful kind of engine at the bottom. We directed him to draw out whatever was at the end of that chain; which appeared to be a globe, half silver, and half of some transparent metal; for, on the transparent side, we saw certain strange figures circularly drawn, and thought we could touch them, till we found our fingers stopped by the lucid substance. He put this engine into our ears, which made an incessant noise, like that of a water-mill: and we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships; but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us, (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly) that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said, it pointed out the time for every action of his life.” — Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
We are indeed slaves to insufficient time! Our clocks, watches, cell phones, are all idols of religious worship or talismans to scare away Chronos and all his hungry minions! Working mothers in the West are perhaps the epitome of daily famines of time. Can you blame them as the father’s are away obsessing of gaining “more”? Time has become tyrannical in the U.S. and losing to it is a most sensitive and shaming fear.
You may be surprised how time lives in your language. ‘Time is money. Give me a moment of your time. Living on borrowed time. My time is my own. Take time off. It’s time to move on. What time is it? How much time do you need?’ Time has become a commodity; something to barter with to own or give. How ridiculously ego-centric to think we have ANY sort of time-management control over a cosmological force which is completely immune to our petty desires.
In western Texas near the town of Van Horn, writer Stewart Brand and musician Brian Eno founded The Long Now Foundation. They are two of many behind the constructions of prototype clocks and the final 10,000-year clock in Ely, Nevada. The concept and proposed paradigm shift offers “In a world of hurry,” explains Brand, “the Clock is a patience machine.” Its long slow bongs ring out only once every thousand years.
Since the Industrial Revolution humankind has been appallingly obsessed with minutes and seconds, the hear-and-now, and ‘Friday evening can’t arrive soon enough!’ The Long Now Foundation and Clock encourages our caffeinated species to bring it down several notches, to thinking bigger and broader in much longer terms, thus being more responsible and implementing an attitude against our environmental ravaging.
Put on a 10,000-year watch and think about the next time its chime resounds from your wrist. What will your home look like then? Hmm, another Untapped Worldtimeframe to explore! Are you simply living day-to-day, week-to-week or are you alive inside these 1,000 years? Both worlds are completely compatible.
If you had been born in the Dark or Middle Ages, in all likelihood you would not have been a noble prince, princess, a knight with full armour with Clydesdale underneath, or a Lady-in-waiting. Despite our civil-social evolutions into the modern era from fate and family necessity to freedom and choice with our labors and spouses, there are still obstacles for some who do not enjoy a robust life in the 21st century.
In today’s labor markets it can often feel as if your duties and performance merely contribute toward the success, status, and wealth of a few owners, shareholders, or top executives. In most free-world economies this isn’t far from the truth. Losing one’s sense of purpose, much less finding one, has some devastating effects. How might purpose be protected and cultivated? How might losing it or neglecting it be avoided? Here are four ideas…
Value – Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Schweitzer understood exactly what that meant. After gaining many accolades in philosophy, theology, and music, Schweitzer’s life and social status were set and waiting. Instead of a life of comfort, luxury, and popularity, at the age of 38 he founded a hospital in French Equatorial Africa. He died there doing what he loved best: attending to other’s needs. “Even if it is a little thing,” he said, “do something for those who have need of man’s help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it.” In medieval times or centuries after, doing such things would have required your holiest vows to make such work and values coincide. Not today.
Calling – While in the Nazi camps Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau between 1942 and 1945, Viktor Frankl learns firsthand the meaning of life. He notes that between prisoners with a vigorous nature for the present do not survive as well as those less hardy but with an unfinished calling beyond the walled fences of barbed wire. On one such prisoner he wrote was an accomplished scientist who had not yet completed writing a series of books before the war started and his arrest. This author/scientist realized no one else could finish his work and write it correctly — he had to stay alive. He knew his calling and it was not dying in the concentration camps.
Respect – if there is anything in today’s rat-race that rivals wealth/money, it is surely recognition. Simply watch a live news interview, TV sporting events, or a tourist recording a trip to a landmark, and you’ll witness the popular act of “bomber-invasion” from random strangers wanting to be seen. It seems to be human nature to achieve some level of status, good or bad in some cases. Deeper respect and admiration are found through meaningful thriving human relationships. They are not found in corporate cubicles or on a factory-line as a cog-in-the-wheel where no human interaction exists. And real respect is rarely found within the mega-efficient lean-staffed corporations of 500-800+ employees spread out over 20-acres, or many sky-high floors, or regional-global offices unless the owner(s) strive and spend their “pocket-change” to make those intimate employee off-the-clock activities between coworkers and supervisors happen on a regular basis.
Talents – What does it mean to be a High-achiever rather than a Wide-achiever? One is extremely specialized and educated in one or two specific areas. The other is a craftsperson, a jack-of-all-trades capable of beginning a project, completing every phase, and finishing it all with little or no outside assistance. Diversity, or what financial investors term spreading out your risks or hedging your bets. From the 2014 film Interstellar, a 2-minute clip about the need for a diversity of talents:
Become a virtuoso like Leonardo De Vinci was of many fields transferring your natural and learned talents across a labors of love spectrum. Be a generalist happy to learn more in order to do more for others.
Job with Spirit – Everyone has a spirit, a youthful zeal just waiting to come out and play or work. But due to social occupational fears and low self-confidence, that enthusiasm rarely gets released, at least in public and at work. Why? Why must your spirit be left at home or for private enjoyment only? The days of feudalism and medieval strictures are long gone! Overcome those fears. Gain more self-confidence. Start or expand a new Renaissance! “Fear stifles, courage fulfills.” Tap into your youthful creative energy, that Wide-achiever and simply smile at naysayers as you pass them by. In fact, invite them to come along!
Our Natural World
In the first two parts of this series we explored how our brain imperfectly perceives our surroundings and others. Though our many senses — the organisms that feed our cerebral organ for interpretation and organizing — accurately pick up the details around us, but unfortunately the brain can create in various degrees a distorted reality. This happens more often than not.
The Myth of Five
To say our bodies have five senses does not do justice to how incredibly complex our body’s sensors really are and how ‘sensitive’ they should be in picking up information. Though neuroscience is still in its adolescence, many neuroscientists assert there are at least 12-14 different sensors and possibly up to twenty. A quick rundown:
Light sensors in the eyes; 2 types: rods and cones for intensity of light stimuli.
Sound sensors in the inner ear.
Orientation-Gravity sensors for your sense of balance.
Nerve sensors in your skin: heat, cold, pain, itch and pressure.
Chemical sensors in the nose for different odours.
Chemical receptors in the tongue for taste.
Muscle & Joint sensors telling the brain about motion and muscle tension.
Bladder, Intestinal & Colon sensors to inform the brain it is time to urinate, when you’re full, and when to excrete.
Hunger & Thirst sensors indicating those needs.
Various body sensations tell the brain when one of your legs have fallen asleep — a lack of proper blood circulation, for example. When your about to sneeze is another.
There are many people which have extra-sensory perceptions like sensing approaching weather changes, or psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, mediumship, precognition, or remote viewing that many law-enforcement increasingly use to solve otherwise unsolvable cases.
“Failing to nurture our senses not only detracts from our appreciation of the subtleties and beauties of everyday experience, but also strips away layers of meaning from our lives. Yet curing ourselves of sensory deprivation is not, as you might expect, about indulging in luxuries like dining on truffles or locking ourselves in a dark room and listening to a Beethoven symphony at full volume, exhilarating though this may be. It is much more about gaining a deeper understanding of how our various senses have come to shape, filter and even distort our interactions with the world — and also how culture has moulded our sensory experiences.” — How Should We Live?, Roman Krznaric.
Becoming more acutely aware of these additional sensory systems is the start to a more enhanced human experience. Yoga or juggling on one leg can refine the equilibrioceptors. Having someone pinch you, bind you, or spank you can refine the nociceptors. Varying temperatures like a cool bath/pool followed by a hot tub then repeat, refines the thermoceptors. Closing the eyes or being blindfolded while moving refines the proprioceptors. Embracing and expanding ALL of the human senses only widens and deepens one’s awareness and full interaction with this spectacular world! Tap deeper into it.
Over the last 5-6 centuries the visual cortex has become the dominant and largest sensory bank in our brains. “We have fallen into a sensory decline” says author and cultural historian of the senses Constance Classen. And it might be worse than imagined.
Everywhere around us is non-stop visual bombardment. Mass advertising relies heavily on imagery — television, billboards becoming increasingly eye-catching and illuminated at night, websites are packed with pics and motion — more than any other medium. And our cell phones? Almost all iPhones and Androids are graphically interactive. In supermarkets produce is a kaleidoscope of vivid colors (genetically?) designed to please the eyes. Wealth and status are paraded by glitzy high-end vehicles, lavish large homes, and landscaping rivaling the Château Versailles. We often judge people by their appearance, facial features, the shape of their body, or the clothes they wear. As the popular diction goes ‘love at first sight’ represents how our English language is pervaded by visual idioms. How often do you hear ‘love at first sniff’ or ‘love at first honk/blast’? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, look before you leap, a sight for sore eyes, and seeing is believing are all common jargon. Vacations today are incomplete without an album of photos or phone video-clips. We now swim in a world largely governed by surface appearances.
What happened to the nose and ears? How can we return them to their natural equality with the eyes? One quick easy way is to close our eyes…more! Keep them closed for extended periods of time. Doing this on a consistent basis forces us to heighten the ears, tongue, nose, and other sensors and receptors. Return to the days of the 14th and 15th centuries when spices, perfumes and pomanders prevailed every day. Sitting in an arboretum or botanical garden, eyes closed, and breath long breaths picking out all possible aromas. If it is outdoors and secluded from noisy traffic and commotion, listen for every tiny insect or bird that sings. If you must, blindfold yourself or your companion to really absorb everything around you which isn’t visual. Do it for much more than 10 or 15 minutes; more like a half-hour or hour to genuinely tap into a world we too often ignore, take for granted, and eventually lose.
The remarkable, mysterious, and later refuted tale of Kaspar Hauser, the imprisoned German boy deprived of any light in a dark 2-meter by 1-meter cell most his childhood, and the narrative of Helen Keller — blind and deaf her entire life since almost 2-years old — can both teach us about how acutely compensating the other human senses develop when one is denied or deprived of sight or sound.
In a post several months ago I shared the rising popularity of new restaurants serving in complete darkness. Here are Restaurant.com’stop 10 establishments for pitch black dining enhancing the body’s other multiple sensory receptors! Tap into their little world of alternate sensor-ramas! If you don’t live near these major cities, check for local or nearby 3-star (or higher) restaurants that might host the event once or twice a year.
Travel & Cultures
When you leave home for a long week or extended vacation, do you go looking to deepen your soul or suntan and gift baskets? The Roman poet Horace warns against merely getting from point A to B: “They change their climate, not their soul, who rush across the sea.” Visiting strange lands and its inhabitants should be the fullest experience possible, not just tolerated until B then back again to A. What are four methods of being a cultured traveler?
Prior to the mid-19th century very few people had the means or luxury to travel beyond their region, much less their country or crossing oceans to far away continents. Tourism didn’t explode into a thriving market until the last third of the 19th century as the middle class began earning enough money for railway passenger trains and ocean liners. As this market began entrepreneurs like Karl Baedeker and Thomas Cook (of Thomas Cook & Son) stepped in to capitalize but with very contrasting ideas of travel. The former published step-by-step sequentially numbered tour guidebooks of exactly what to visit at what precise time. The latter, however, organized packaged trips to find literal sojourns to God with the assistance of pious ministers, pseudo-sabbaticals if you will.
Packaged tourism today with a tour guide isn’t much different. Visiting famous landmarks, museums, festivals, beachfront resorts, or hotels in mountain tops, are quite popular vacations. When you travel though what do you do? Follow an airtight itinerary by guidebook or tour group, or do you discover the human landscape, the human story behind and within the landmarks, museums, and inanimate objects in your camera?
There are living monuments not only in foreign lands, but just as well in your own backyard and hometown! Grand hotels should have as a standard feature open nurseries and playground where children of guests interact with native children while parents converse sharing family and cultural stories at nearby benches and tables. In Denmark and followed later in the U.K. social activists came up with an ingenious project in 2000 called Human Libraries where actual people share a story of their life from personal experience to a guest/visitor. The guest then interacts with the storyteller breaking down prejudices and other barriers that typically divide, cause unfounded fears, and subsequent fabricated contempt. Tap into the experience of being a living library for visitors.
Pilgrims are perhaps the original traveler. The word travel is derived from “travail” which means to suffer or toil without much relief, conveniences or luxury. Matsuo Bashō and Satish Kumar are two perfect examples of pilgrimages. Both men set out on walking journeys without consideration of provisions, possible relief, or shelter. They began with just three destinations: deep significant self-meaning, very challenging, and cultivate the Wander spirit. In other words, find the roots of yourself as well as the journey’s and destination’s. Find the tiniest details of life and the world around you which are too often lost in convenient rapid travel. Have no strict dates or times. And do not obsess about arrival; find the art of living, not motion! Tap into the world of a pilgrimage.
When you think of nomads how would you describe them? One popular image are the Bedouins of the Syrian and Arabian deserts prior to the 20th century. They were known to be traveling camel and goat herders across vast regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, to the Middle East covering 21 various countries. In today’s highly urbanized and flourishing societies, these nomadic cultures are slowly being swallowed up by encroaching civilization. How then might we experience in the 21st century what is meant by gypsy or nomadic living according to necessity like the Bedouins? What might be the closest thing to Bedouin life?
It isn’t RV’ing like many retirees do trekking across the continent from national park to national park with all the amenities of a fully furnished 45-foot or larger $200,000 Class A motorhome. It isn’t even staying in a luxurious 3-room log-cabin with massive kitchen and hot-tub/sauna. No, the closest thing today to gypsy nomadic life is basic camping. In other words, throwing a light tent onto your large backpack and hiking to isolated locations camping for a week or two with friends or your tribe; living IN and with the land without your iPod, hairdryer, and television. All you need are what nomads and gypsies had over 100-years ago: some food, matches or fire-starter kit, a knife, and wet-weather gear. Everything else you might need find in or on the land. At night, have your fire going and gaze above, listen to every single sound, and smell the Earth around you — and perhaps your fellow hikers too (wink). Simplicity is the essence of the gypsy-nomadic experience. Tap into the simple world of basic camping.
As a young boy I was spellbound by the stories and travels of the 13th century Venetian explorer Marco Polo along with his father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo. The vivid details of all their stops and their encounters with diverse peoples and cultures utterly captivated my imagination. The Travels of Marco Polo was not like the other romanticized tales of Columbus, Magellan, or Drake that we learned in school. It didn’t take too much reasoning to realize that most of the textbook stories of the Age of Exploration and Colonialization were simply about exploitation laced with racism. None of the 15th to 18th century world Empires had the least bit interest in being taught or enlightened. Neither should our modern desires to explore reflect the Age of Exploitation.
Instead, modern exploration should be derailing ourselves from local daily routine. This can be just as easily accomplished in a 10-mile radius as it can transcontinentally. The power of existential exploration — going without a specific destination — is a strange mix of certainty and uncertainty. Going but not knowing where. You feel compelled to leave the past (and its knowledge) behind, but in not knowing the destination you remain open to embrace other ways of living, thinking, and interacting beyond anything you could’ve possibly imagined. Ask yourself, how many world cultures have you experienced firsthand? Did you know that according to UNESCO World Heritage List there are over 800 cultural sites/regions around the world? Forty-eight of them are endangered of becoming extinct.
Jump off the ordinary vacation of “time off” and sit or walk firmly with time on travels tapping into the world and journey of the intrinsic and extrinsic explorer!
In the January 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine journalist Florence Williams wrote her article This Is Your Brain on Nature. The magazine issue and Williams’ article complimented the Jan. 10th Explorer television episode Call Of the Wild on the NatGeo Channel.
“Nature nurtures us. It boosts our mood too. According to the attention restoration theory, spending time in nature relieves the stress and mental fatigue caused by the ‘directed attention’ that work and city life require.
Directed Attention is the ability to voluntarily focus attention and ignore distractions crucial to solving problems and completing tasks. But modern life sometimes requires more of this resource than we have — and once it’s depleted, prolonged and concentrated effort leads to mental fatigue, loss of effectiveness, and stress.
Involuntary Attention is attending to the stimuli in peaceful, natural environments — trees, flowing water, mountain shadows — is a different type of experience. It doesn’t require a prolonged effort or an act of will to avoid distractions. Researchers say this kind of focus allows the brain to disengage and restore its capacity for directed attention.”
Williams continues stating that nature improves human creativity by up to 50% and every walk through a park and forest decreases stress hormones by as much as 16%. What does this tell us about too much hectic civilization? After all, aren’t we humans part of Nature since that is exactly where we originated? Is it any wonder that research studies are finding that human mortality rates are indirectly connected to an area’s forestation or trees? Millions of years ago they were literally our homes.
“In a ‘forest kindergarten’ in Langnau am Albis, a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland, children spend most of the school day in the woods, regardless of weather. They learn whittling, fire starting, and denbuilding; they’re able to explore. Supporters say such schools foster self-confidence and an independent spirit.”
Sounds very much like another school in England founded by A.S. Neill doesn’t it?
How should we view Nature today? Is it friend or foe? It wasn’t so long ago that humankind decidedly viewed it as foe. Throughout the Middle Ages, particularly in Northern Europe, the outside world was seen as owned by Darkness, very feared, and home to all sorts of hungry wild beasts, evil spirits, ogres and trolls. In Anglo-Saxon folklore like Beowulf, nature clearly was menacing and completely opposed to human happiness. J.R.R. Tolkien picked up that legacy in the 20th century with stories of hobbits being petrified if passing through the haunted Fangorn Forest or eery Mirkwood. Our words savage and panic are derived from these ancient and Medieval imagery: savage is from silva, meaning a wood; panic comes from the Greeks’ fear of encountering Pan, the half-man, half-goat Lord of the forests. When William Bradford — a conservative Separatist from Plymouth, England and the Church of England — first landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620 he described his impressions of the scene as a “hideous and desolate wilderness.” In many parts of 17th century Europe mountains were criticized as deformities, warts, boils and monstrous excrescences, likely due to the harshness to cultivate. It wasn’t until the Romantic Movement that this view of nature significantly changed and it became no longer foe, but friend. And more than just friend.
Our Biosphere, Biodiversity, and Biophilia and the Ecological Self In the previous Untapped Worlds I introduced Harvard sociobiologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. I was particularly intrigued by his definition of eusociality. But the social human side of Nature is only part of the story.
For more than 3-million years we have lived and survived in an intricately connected environment. Tibetan Sherpas and Buddhist lamas say that we and all living things on this planet are always touching like smoke reaches everywhere in the wind. They would be absolutely correct. Every second of our lives we touch unseen elements and forces like the air we breath, the sound waves to our eardrums, and the traveling light-photons our retinas pick up. We are therefore very vital, integral, active parts of our biosphere. Whether we grasp this reality or not, we are effecting Nature even when we are not literally out in Nature. At any given time every single day we directly and indirectly influence our lithosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. Think about that impact for a moment. If you think your wood and brick home is ‘your home,’ think again.
Biodiversity isn’t just the categorization of living species on Earth. We must distinguish between genetic biodiversity and ecological biodiversity:
“Genetic Biodiversity is the variation in genes that exists within a species. A helpful way to understand genetic diversity is to think about dogs. All dogs are part of the same species, but their genes can dictate whether they are Chihuahua or a Great Dane. There can be a lot of variation in genes – just think about all the colors, sizes, and shapes that make up the genetic diversity of dogs.
Ecological Biodiversity is the diversity of ecosystems, natural communities and habitats. In essence, it’s the variety of ways that species interact with each other and their environment. The forests of Maine differ from the forests of Colorado by the types of species found in both ecosystems, as well as the temperature and rainfall. These two seemingly similar ecosystems have a lot of differences that make them both special.”
How important are every single genetic and ecological systems we live within? For starters the National Wildlife Federation lists these six reasons:
Foods and materials to live healthy and happy. Without the diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce.
Medicinal uses. Research into plant and animal genetics and biology have allowed humans to live extended lives and cure diseases. Every time a species goes extinct our genetic diversity is lost, we will never know whether research would have given us a new vaccine or drug.
Ecological services. Biodiversity enables the cleaning of water and absorbing of chemicals, which wetlands do, to providing oxygen for us to breathe — one of the many things that plants do for everyone.
Ecosystem rebalancing. If given enough time, adjusting to eco-disturbances allows for ecosystems to adjust to interferences like extreme fires and floods. If a reptile species goes extinct, a forest with 20 other reptiles is likely to adapt better than another forest with only one reptile.
With genetic diversity disease prevention is more successful. This allows species to adjust to changes in their environment.
Sheer wonderment and intrigue. There are few things as beautiful and inspiring as the vast diversity of life — between 3-30 million species, possibly over 100-million — that exists on Earth. And that diversity is constantly changing.
Biophilic office space
Biophilia is a term and concept that E.O. Wilson popularized in the 1980’s. Earlier I was mentioning a few facts about how much Nature reduces stress hormones and significantly increases human creativity. Because we humans inherently enjoy the diversity of natural life, this is called biophilia. If we as a species do not become much more aware, educated, and a responsible part of Nature’s delicate interacting systems, we will permanently cut our and our descendant’s virtual umbilical cord to life. Period. It is (way?) past due that everyone become a scientist, a member of the Biophilia Foundation, a Naturalist that cares deeply about a quality life today and for our children, grandchildren, and the human species.
The real possibility that Nature could end should move us away from a high-carbon consumerist ethos and closer to a sustainable intimate ecological relationship with our fragile world. Tap into the many varieties of a low-carbon lifestyle and become a Conservationist rather than a programmed Consumerist.
Conventions and Baggage
In the scientific world, especially Quantum Physics, it is often said that the only thing that is permanent is impermanence. Fighting or denying this law is futile. Embracing it and working within it brings liberation and contentment. Progress is achieved by movement. Stagnation is achieved by an accumulation of heavy baggage. History has repeatedly shown that breaking away from antiquated socio-economic and religious norms begins small until it grows into an inevitable movement with sweeping change and enlightenment. But the overhaul and liberation cannot start without a few courageous movers and shakers; the “radicals” if you will.
What You Trust
When you purchase a computer or laptop, it typically comes preloaded with the newest MS Windows operating system, all the many drivers to run various external devices, programs to do office work, Norton or McAfee protection, perhaps Netflix for movies and TV shows, and also personal duties like online banking, perhaps home security and monitoring, and a few games that you and the family enjoy. Basically the computer/laptop is setup to hit the ground running moments after booting up. Seconds after birth the human brain is not setup to immediately perform adult tasks; not in the least.
The human operating system, the brain and neurology, are gradually programmed in through our 10-14 receptors over the span of about two decades. This is not to say that we are prenatally blank. We do receive a very basic genetic coding, a few simple sequences of 1’s and 0’s if you will, that give our bodies the necessary information to stay alive — or attempt to — with the mandatory help of our mother and (perhaps?) father.
The implications of these pre-natal facts are probably far more reaching than one realizes. It means that during those first years we learn an emotional risk-reward protocol; this behavior results in that reward or consequence. In the latter portion of those two decades based upon our parental, familial, and community, we develop the core of our beliefs on religion, nationalism — perhaps monarchy in certain countries — our young opinions, politics, various mechanisms of emotional relationships, and depending completely on our birthplace and the influences during the first two decades we develop how we “fit in” this world. Much of what we think are truths are simply shaped by our first 10-20 years.
To say it more poignantly, religious, political, and social beliefs are largely an accident of birth, geography, and history. There are degrees of “truth” scattered throughout those three accidents.
Facts and Impermanence
All throughout recorded history there have been monumental events or discoveries that forever change human civilization. For at least 100,000 years or more humans assumed that walking or running were the only means of transportation over distances. That truth was overturned around 3,500 BCE with the domestication of the horse. For about 4,500 years humans assumed precious metals or merchandise were the only forms of commercial trading until China began using paper currency in the 7th century CE. For some 50,000 years or more humans assumed the world and their entire existence entailed only what they could see with the naked eye, until the 13th century CE when magnifying lenses were invented. For approximately 4,500 years humans assumed there were only two methods of higher learning: verbal stories, pictographs, or from slow scribed papyrus that only ‘divine’ authors could record from the god(s). That truth was overturned by the invention of the printing press in the 15th century CE. For probably at least 5 or 6,000 years humans assumed that diseases, ailments, and physical malformities were from angry god(s) until the 19th and 20th centuries when antibiotics were introduced, followed by a growing plethora of other medical cures and treatments today.
I will not go into how monumental Galileo Galili’s confirmation of Copernicus’s heliocentric theorem was to humankind. It literally changed everything European and Near Eastern religious and political leaders had believed and taught their subjects and all the masses for almost three millenia. John Maynard Keynes is perhaps one apropos example of just how profound impermanence molds human facts or truths. During the Great Depression, Keynes shifted his position and monetary policy more than once and came under heavy criticism by other fellow economists. His response was “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?” How often do we scrutinize our own beliefs, let alone change them, as so many forces, factors, and limitless diversity exists, moves, and evolves into newer forms? Often facts and truths are a matter of human perception, not necessarily universal permanence.
Beliefs vs. Practice
How much are your beliefs and practicing those beliefs worth to you? Can you put a price on them? Henry David Thoreau said “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” When you consider all the various definitions of what life is I believe Mr. Thoreau was spot on. What is most valuable to you in life? Why do people hold certain beliefs? The majority of the human race believe in a Divine Being or God. Why? Regional Director for the Council for Secular Humanism and a former Publicity Coordinator for the Campus Free-thought Alliance, Austin Cline lists seven reasons from his research:
Indoctrination — The high and consistent degree of religious concentrations suggests that people believe their religion because that’s the one they were indoctrinated into and which is consistently reinforced around them. People acquire a religion before critical thinking skills and that religion is promoted without most people noticing.
Indoctrination into Anti-Athiest Bigotry — questioning or going against social norms can be very risky; e.g. being a Zionist Jew inside Syria. Children learn in public schools that America is a nation for people who believe in God and this message is reinforced throughout their lives by preachers, politicians, and community leaders of all sorts. This leads to number 3…
Peer and Family Pressure — People who step outside [social] expectations are not simply choosing a different way of life, but can in fact be perceived as rejecting one of the most important bonds which keep a family or community together. Even if this is never communicated in so many words, people do learn that certain ideas, ideologies, and practices should be treated as vital to communal bonds and should therefore not be questioned. The role of peer pressure and familial pressure in maintaining at least a veneer of religiosity for many people cannot be denied.
Fear of Death — This is self-generated hope out of fear of what will happen after dying — either going to hell or simply ceasing to exist. People don’t want to think that [the possibility of] physical death is the end of all experiences, emotions, and thoughts so they insist on believing that somehow their “mind” will continue to exist without any physical brain in an eternity of sustained bliss — or even will be reincarnated in a new form.
Wishful Thinking — Many Christians seem to wish quite strongly that there exists a place of eternal punishment awaiting all those who dare to deny them political and cultural dominion in America. Many conservative believers from many religions seem to wish that there is a god which wants them to exercise unchecked power over women and minorities.
Fear of Freedom and Responsibility — I personally find this reason very telling. It promotes lack of ownership. [Believers] don’t have to be responsible for ensuring that justice is done because God will provide that. They don’t have to be responsible for solving environmental problems because God will do that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing strong moral rules because God has done that. They don’t have to be responsible for developing sound arguments in defense of their positions because God has done that. Believers deny their own freedom because freedom means responsibility and responsibility means that if we fail, no one will rescue us.
Lack of Basic Skills in Logic and Reasoning — Most people don’t learn nearly as much about logic, reason, and constructing sound arguments as they should. Given how important believers claim the existence of their god and truth of their religion are, you’d think that they would invest a lot of effort into constructing the best possible arguments and finding the best possible evidence. Instead, they invest a lot of effort into constructing circular rationalizations and finding anything that sounds even remotely plausible.
It has been my personal experience living most of my life in the Deep South (Texas is on the fringe of the Bible Belt) that the most common foundation for fundamental beliefs once a person reaches their 20’s and 30’s is a question of convenience really. What do I stand to lose or gain with these beliefs? What is worth dying for or spending years in prison? What is my personal integrity worth? How would this belief-system benefit me? In my opinion, those are the more pragmatic questions the majority of adults ask about religions and not anything concerning a consensus of truth or what extensive scrutiny reveals.
Transcendence Things are very often bigger than ourselves. We cannot possibly understand all extenuating factors that contribute to human behavior. Though the weight of peer pressure, governments, family, social trends, money, or global dynamics can push us to apathy, paralysis, or disillusionment, we must find ways to take the higher road. A blind ideologue or unexamined do-gooder is not enough. Healthy scepticism should always remain active. Fortunately Gandhi and Galileo understood this risky concept for the eventual betterment of all.
Tap into the unexamined life and your belief systems beyond your own tiny world.
Many Fortune 500 companies have latched on to the new idea that creativity within their workforce is a valuable asset and should be encouraged. Modern psychologists are in general agreement that a blue-sky attitude at the office and home have many health benefits. But what exactly is the act of creating and creativity? What are the best ways to cultivate a thriving ambiance of creativity? Let’s start with what isn’t.
Conformity: The Subtle Virus
The Renaissance of the 14th through 16th centuries undoubtedly ushered in a rebirth of classical learning and values. It ushered in a broader spectrum of science, language, and literature. For the most part feudalism and religious dogma crushed any spirit of self-expression or free thinking throughout the Middle Ages. But the Renaissance brought about greats such as Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Dante. However, it also created an eventual elitist and disempowering movement by the 17th and early 18th centuries: individual creative genius. In other words, touched by the divine and untouchable by mediocrity. Michelangelo and Mozart received this illustrious title with full honors postmortem too.
Fortunately for all aspiring virtuosos and maestros, by the 1960’s the history of creativity shifted from innate, divine genetic gifting… to ‘technique’ that could be learned just like typing, riding a horse, or playing an instrument. The trick was to learn all the various techniques to find your own unique style! Instead of God’s favour, creativity (within all of us) stems from a grounding of appropriate techniques and hard work through extensive broad education or training. For example, Edward de Bono’s technique-based approach to “lateral thinking.” See exercise below:
Have you tapped into the untapped worlds of non-conformity? How many technique-based creativity skills have you really unleashed?
A long held practice in Buddhism is to seek out life’s marrow in mindful awareness to ordinary routine tasks like brushing your teeth or singing in the shower Need You Tonight by INXS. This is how it should be with creating too. Whether it is cooking, spice and/or vegetable gardening, learning and playing an instrument, writing-blogging, beginning new friendships and romances outside of convention, painting, making wood furniture or interior decorations, walking the family pet, give yourself a daily or at least weekly varied dose of complete self-expression. Tap into that simmering creativity and let it all burst out and consume! Homo faber is good… very, very good!
Creativity and creating has been one of the most historic heavily mythologized aspects of human endeavor. Too many people still believe it is the preserve, the jurisdiction of a small group chosen or born with a ‘special gift’ whereas fuller history tells us it is so much more inclusive! And the methods the elite geniuses implement to keep their lofty social, religious, or economic status is cunningly specialized through guilds, dominions, or foundations. Yet real joy, real fulfillment, real challenge, and real accomplishment doesn’t strictly depend on current convention, especially within a macro and subatomic existence that is always impermanent. Fear stifles, courage fulfills.
There is an old saying in professional sports that you are only as good as your last defeat. In other words, in the highly competitive field of modern professional sports and coaching resting on your laurels is very bad for job security, even if your overall record is worthy of an eventual Hall of Fame induction. There is literally just a miniscule amount of grace to be mediocre, let alone losers. I argue up and down, sideways and backwards with U.S. men’s soccer fans about our national team performances, players, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann all the time because they ignorantly feel that the United States should now be competing for the World Cup semi-finals and soon the World Cup Championship — hysterically being in the world’s top four or top two TODAY! — like we dominated in baseball and basketball decades ago, and like we will dominate if the rest of the world starts playing American football NFL style as they are promoting (in hopes to expand the revenue markets) in Great Britain and Europe.
What fair-weather naive American futebol fans don’t realize or thoroughly understand is the intrinsic value — and to a degree extrinsic value — Jurgen Klinsmann brings to our USMNT and youth feeder programs. They have no clue as to what and where Klinsmann grew up inside (Germany), played with and against, and intimately understands about world class futebol/soccer in Germany, and Europe inside UEFA. That wasn’t something the average American sports fan was even remotely interested in the 1980’s and 90’s. American sports fans and the financial backers/sponsors are mostly (only?) concerned about revenue and profits via high winning percentages and dynasties. Today, I think pro coaches, their staff, and general managers have less than 3-years to make it all happen. Win, win, win; nothing more than extrinsic value. Period.
Measuring something or someone’s value cannot and is not strictly done by a dollar amount or the win column. And it certainly cannot be accurately measured in one or two years, let alone a few months.
Have you tapped into both the intrinsic and extrinsic values of yourself, someone or something?
Death is always as close and real as life. The minute you are born, every subsequent minute gets you closer to death. In the Western mindset death has become more distant, more detached from every day life than any other point in history. I feel this growing separation is undermining our ability to live more fully.
The rise in medicalized death in hospital or hospice and the erosion of old funeral and mourning ceremonies attended by all family and community have pushed death into an invisible state in modern society. Death and dying has become a taboo topic of conversation or awkward silence at a dinner party. Why? Why has ‘out of sight, out of mind‘ become so trendy and expected? What has become of the old deathstyle of growing old, facing our mortality with courage, dignity, honor, and dying well? First of all, this can only be reintroduced if we talk about death openly and frankly, as if it were our intimate dance partner. It is a little known fact that being equally obsessed with death as we are with an inspiring life, creates an INTENSE appreciation for the value of life.
A Danse Macabre
In medieval and Renaissance Europe as well as Native North and South American tribal cultures, death was viewed as an unavoidable bed partner. Cemeteries of medieval London, Paris, and Rome were popular meeting places where wine, beer, and linen tradesmen, especially on Saints Day when pilgrims travelled through, were the busiest bustling places in town. People strolled, socialized, and made merry amongst the graves — children played with human bones in the charnel houses by the churches because skeletons were stacked to make way, make room for new residents. Auguste Bernard, historian of French burial locations, wrote cemeteries were “the noisiest, busiest, most boisterous, and most commercial place in the rural and urban community.” The morbid fascination with skulls, arm and leg bones, and cadavers that filled medieval life is more than a historical curiosity: it holds a crucial lesson for us today. It is the same concept, the same lesson as appreciating something immensely valuable when you no longer have it.
The Reach of Death
There was a time when a death in a community affected everyone in the community. Before the 20th century in Western countries, death of an individual caused a major social occasion altering the space and time of everyone in town. It was part of everyday life like the passing of the seasons. In the 21st century this is no longer the case. Death is treated like an unwanted guest and should be ignored and out of sight of our youth and children.
If life is to be respected, cherished, and held as momentary, then death should be equally respected, cherished, and held as a visiting next-door neighbor.
Caring For Our Elderly
There is no denying that the modern longevity of life has increased exponentially. Medical advancements have improved the quantity of extended years, but in Western nations has the quality of life for eighty, ninety, and centurion aged retirees kept up? Prior to and during the 1950’s many elderly moved in and lived with their children. However, this practice has been in steady decline as more and more women entered the workplace and left behind the traditional roles as caregivers to the children and grandparents. This accounts for the extraordinary rise in nursing homes and hospice. Are there alternatives?
Yes there are alternatives. In Japan and China the Confucian lifestyle of filial piety as lived by the great and learned emperor Han Wendi in caring for his ailing mother at the expense of his own luxury and convenience, is one alternative. If one or both of your parents were emotional or illegal causes of tremendous hurt and instability in your childhood and reconciliation is an impossible outcome, there are plenty of other good, funny, and deeply wise elderly patients without family visitors and caring loving treatment at their nursing home where both of you would benefit immeasurably. Otherwise, there are few legitimate reasons not to invite your parents or grandparents to live with you or for you to move in with them. Much life-and-death wisdom can be shared and learned with those on the doorstep of death; any nearby St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital could teach the same lessons. But our parents helped bring us into this world, survive it, and grow to be adults so we can help them leave it with contentment and dignity whether we always saw things eye to eye or not.
How much have you tapped into the world of the aging and elderly? How immediate, frank, and open is a dignifying death promoted and taught in your house? Do you have a danse macabre that deepens the beauty and frailty of life… the paradox of death giving more life?
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“He who cannot draw on three thousand years
is living from hand to mouth.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”
This final message from Goethe and Cicero is this: if we truly want to change how we live, to be more human, live a fuller extraordinary life, there may come a point where we simply stop thinking, stop planning, and act, go, just do it. There is another aspect to this command: giving is very good for you and those around you. Examining 3 – 4,000 years of history enable us to rethink our habitual (blind?) ways of loving, creating, working, and dying and are NOT the only choices facing us! All we have to do is throw open the wonderbox of all life, people, and Nature and discover a perpetual art of better deeper living.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
It is astonishing as well as alarming! Doha, Qatar, one of many “Emerald Cities” in the Persian Gulf springing up from hot sand into vast riches of oil and gas then spectacular skyscrapers is since the early 2000’s, mostly empty. That’s right, 90% empty! And the reasons are telling!
But before examining the reasons, let’s first review where we left off in El Dorado — Part I… since it has been almost two months and nine other posts since I published it.
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American workers between the age of 25-54 work an average 63 hours per week, 7 days a week, equating to almost 9-hours per day. Of all Western nations this work-rate is the highest among industrialized countries. This obsession to work looks like this: their 7-day work week earns them an average wage of $47,000 per year, or $14.35/hour and this wage often does not come with medical-health benefits from the employer — most American low-wage jobs don’t. Therefore, factor in that deduction from $14.35/hour and you only begin to see the real picture for much of the American workforce.
At the other end of the spectrum you have attorneys at-law, the highest wage-earners, making between $105,000 to $192,000 per year (in the 48 conjoined states) according to the American Bar Association 2011. This job-sector also has the nation’s highest rates of depression and suicide, along with American teachers, counselors, and executive assistants, respectively. What is more bewildering is that universities across the United States “report steady or increased enrollment into their law schools and medical schools, and not so surprising decreased enrollment into their schools of education and counseling.” The steady or increasing numbers to law schools and the declining numbers into teaching or counseling classrooms are directly related to their average salaries.
Fortunately, this subtle American tragic disunion has an upside… which I will get to momentarily.
Visions of World Grandeur
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – Emir of Qatar
Accounting history has shown over the last two decades that to host a FIFA World Cup is extremely stimulating for a country’s economy, employment, its leadership, and world image. The spectacle of the four-week tournament includes 32 different nations and their raving fans, unimaginable TV exposure and revenues, exceptionally high tourism revenue, fan sites and events at each game just outside of stadiums, all-encompassing millions upon billions of dollars. Glitz, glamour, and metaphorical-gold abound! Not surprising, the bidding war for the 2022 World Cup was fierce between the U.S., Japan, and Qatar, with Qatar coming out as the highly controversial winner. As mentioned, Doha, the capital of Qatar, will host several of the games. The Qatari ruling family (Emirs, Faisals or Kings), the house of Al-Thani, began in 2010-11 implementing very bold construction plans for a “New Qatar” as a whole, but in particular the FIFA game-venues throughout the eastern portion of the country as the chance to awe not only the sports world, but the entire modern world after the games. Qatar shipped in thousands of foreign workers and erected several “Emerald Cities” the world would envy!
Why then, as of October 2014, is the capital Doha 90% empty?
BQDoha.com (Business Qatar) explains three primary causes and symptoms to Doha’s emptiness. One — overcrowded cramped housing. The average person, mostly foreign construction workers, live with other families or individuals in “villas” — many semi-dilapidated buildings — partitioned into family-sections in order that landlords turnover a bigger profit. Two — a wait-and-watch holdout policy by landlords for the foreign corporate residents. Landlords can better gouge big corporations for higher rent and get the rent in one lump sum for a 3-year contract on average. And Three — a saturation of aggressive street peddlers disguised as “real estate brokers” but paid by landlords discreetly. Rents quoted by these illegal peddlers are high to pad their finder’s fee and compensation. From these three causes follow symptoms of a city and nation struggling with traditions, expatriates, and modernism heavily pushed by the Emir and extremely wealthy faisal families-business élite. A quick read of The New York Times Middle East beat-writer Anthony Shadid’s November 2011 article, shows how the capital city, its nation and upper-elite, versus its common people are sharply contrasted behind the imposing Emerald City façade. Visions of world notoriety and wealth come only from a tiny privileged percentage of Qataris.
The United States has its fair share of Emerald Cities too: Detroit, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio are two most notable emptying facades out of several.
Getting Behind the Glittering Veil
In Part I of El Dorado I touched on the highly clever, complex marketing schemes (Ponzi Schemes?) America’s upper 10% and corporate executives promote to consumers — extensive details of the schemes were found in five previous posts. But rather than hunting and gutting the schemers, I want to delve into the uneducated gullible consumer’s mind; why do they/we swallow El Dorado hook, line, and sinker? Why does one incessantly chase Emerald City citizenship with big eyes and panting breath? Probably five reasons:
Respect of Peers
Time and one’s concept of it
What do you value in life? What activities do you enjoy most? If you are unable to satisfy your value-systems, what goals or dreams do you have in order to work for and satisfy your values? Typically, we all value the respect of someone: our parents, spouse or intimate partner, coach or boss, a fan-base or maybe the approvals and recommendations of institutions or associations, like universities or writers guild. Everyone seeks some degree of respect from others. What skills or talents have you been taught? Are those skills considered excellent? Average? Evaluated by whom? Certainly everyone cannot be self-proclaimed tycoons, right? Therefore, respect and skills are irrevocably linked.
Perhaps the most significant reason one seeks El Dorado-Emerald City citizenship is their concept of time. In Western industrialized nations, the average lifespan is 78-years; for women 81-82 years. Depending on where you are born and to what parents may dictate how much time you have to obtain the coveted citizenship, march through the golden gates, and into worldly bliss. Then again, many believe existence does not end at 78 or 82 years. For them it might be eternal and as such feel much less pressure to pass through those gates — atheists and deists may not bother with citizenship-anxiety at all. Eat, drink, and be very merry might be all that matters to them — a lifestyle this Bohemian doesn’t scuff off but happily joins on several occasions!
These five above appetites that hungry consumers have are well-known and pandered to by the Kings and Queens of El Dorado and Emerald City. Their accompanying marketing departments probably know even better. Fortune 100 companies pay millions, maybe billions, to the élite Top marketing firms or internal departments to CREATE insatiable consumer appetites! For a population that doesn’t have easy access to alternative lifestyles’ skills or services (such as, living off-the-grid), or the matching business-marketing masters degrees or PhD’s, the consumer’s future is an increasing metaphorical obesity epidemic. The gourmet chefs of this buyer buffet — the Fortune 100 or 500 businesses and executives — won’t ever stop crowding your table and plates with “masterpieces” unless you break the trance and walk away by your own will-power!
The New Tiny Living Tiny House Movement
Click to enlarge – image courtesy of TheTinyLife.com
The Wall Street Crisis of 2007-08 and to an extent America’s metaphorical appetite for obesity, jump-started the Tiny Living Tiny House Nation and Movement as an alternative to high-debt living and mortgages which greatly limit owner’s freedoms and R&R in a hectic ultra-competitive free-market economy. From 1978 to 2007 the average size of new single-family American home grew from 1,780 sq. feet to almost 2,500 sq. feet. With that growth followed all accessory businesses such as landscaping and home-improvement. By the time President Ronald Reagan finished his last term in 1989 and put into law his Tax Reform Act of 1986, the make-it-bigger home market fly-wheel was at full-speed-ahead until it hit the granite wall in 2007.
Today, on top of the purchase-price, down payment, principle paid, interest after-tax, taxes and home insurance, maintenance, and major repairs and/or improvements, the final amount out-of-pocket for a typical single-family home reaches over $1-millionfor a 30-year term. If you are the 76% – 90% portion of the typical American family earning between $35k – $50k annually, where is the fiscal wisdom in living so far out of your means?
The fantastic people at TheTinyLife.com offer home-buyers interested in more freedom, more time, more environmentally conscious, more fiscally responsible, just more modesty and simplicity for hectic lives by liberating themselves from America’s bigger-is-betterGAUDINESS! It’s just smarter.
For most Americans 1/3 to 1/2 of their income is dedicated to the roof over their heads; This translates to 15 years of working over your life time just to pay for it and because of it 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. — TheTinyLife.com
Please stop by their website to learn the brilliance in unburdening yourself from the modern home-building, home-improvement marketing schemes that imprison and overload many nose-diving Americans. Wise up!
Labor of Survival, Status, or of Love?
It is perhaps the most introspective questions we ask ourselves: Am I working to survive? Am I working to gain status? Am I not “working” because I love my job? In which group do you fall? In which one would you rather be?
Finding our bearings through these questions and possibly changing our heading in today’s labor and social environment can seem daunting. Marketing impulse-triggering wizards with million-dollar Ivy League business degrees wickedly cleverly pull at our heart-strings. But the consequences of not checking your bearings and heading could prove to be much worse on one’s emotional, spiritual, and physical health. It would be wise to ask yourself at least twice a year, What am I laboring for and will it be worth it come retirement? For many Americans “retirement in luxury” is a distant fantasy due to a lifetime of survival mode and seemingly never-ending self-sacrifice. If this is the case, maybe a second and third question should be asked… Where is the majority of my paycheck(s) going? Are those credits bearing valuable fruit or evaporating, or padding a total stranger’s pocketbook?
Laboring for status is perhaps the greatest American trickster scheme. It can at first be mistaken for love. There’s no better example of this than in the top four U.S. sports markets. Coaches, General Managers, Athletic Directors, and finally the players (with the exception of NCAA collegiate athletes) face the very real possibility that their employment or their role will be terminated or replaced by another every year, sometimes less than a year! In the NFL (National Football League), the #1 most popular sport in America, a head coach lasts an average of 38-months. NFL General Managers last a bit longer at 44-months. In the MLB (Major League Baseball), the #2 sport in America, a Manager/Coach lasts about 24-months. And unless players in both the NFL or MLB are tagged franchise-players, they stay only 24-months on average with one team. Athletic Directors with NCAA Division I universities enjoy more stability and longevity at 7.5 years on campus, but over the last decade this average has steadily dropped due to collegiate sports (and revenues) becoming more widely competitive. There has also been increased mobility or transfers by NCAA football and baseball players for improved exposure to NFL and MLB scouts, especially in baseball given its now global appeal. In the NBA (National Basketball Association), the #4 most popular sport (along with auto-racing), staff and player positions and vacancies have become a near non-stop marry-go-round with replacements, no check that, scapegoats… with an average stay of only 9-months; the NBA season is only 6-months long.
What does all this mean? In the American sports culture it means one thing: winning championships or very least, consistent playoff births. Status. Nothing else matters; truly a What-have-you-done-for-me-lately intolerance. Just how much does the American sports world permeate American occupational and economic culture? Answer: Factor in all games and events, merchandise, and other incidental sports activities, and the dollar figure goes easily into the upper billions! Yes, 60.9% of American sports fans, i.e. the men, fantasize and live vicariously through their favorite pro and collegiate athletes and spend royally to feel and look like them.
According to Forbes.com and NSGA.org (National Sporting Goods Association), every year Americans spend around $43-billion on retail sporting goods such as gear and equipment, logo’d-apparel of their team(s), not counting game or season tickets. Sports gambling, e.g. fantasy leagues, rake in $20-billion from American sports fans in a $400-billion dollar sports gambling industry. Parents of little American athletes spend $300-million a year for various league registrations, uniform fees, etc, then the figure leaps to $900-million per year for goods, incidentals, and travel for their athletic kids. Let’s not forget how much companies spend on TV advertising, and fans on Pay-per-View events; that figure is in excess of $10-billion per year.
Those dollar figures beg many serious questions, not the least of which is why do American taxpayers bitch and whine about taxes and tax-levels, the national deficit, poorly run government programs, and struggling public infrastructure when clearly the private sector, i.e. businesses and individuals, spend over $474-billion dollars PER YEAR on sporting entertainment alone? Should I remind us of what those same entities spend on real estate, homes, home-improvement, home accessories, and automobiles to park in the two-car garages? No? Then at least remember $474+ billion dollars annually just on entertainment.
A laboring of love is generally accepted, or should be, as the way to live. Though by the time I reached my 30’s or 40’s, with a marriage or two, and then children — you know, after all the trials and tribulations getting through my teens and twenties — the light-bulb didn’t come on…I was halfway finished with my life! Time to get serious and ask myself those hard questions. I won’t bog you readers down with another convincing argument (wink) of why a life of experience, experience with others, with the ones you care for deeply and go through thick-n-thin with to come out singing and dancing… is the way to go. No, I hope all of you can grasp and understand what Albert Einstein profoundly distinguished:
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein
For those who might need a hint, Dr. Albert distinguished two opposite concepts in just those twelve simple words. The first-hand experience to love and be loved is the best labor in life, not status or success. I would add to Einstein’s point that modesty and moderation will limit, even save one from the dangers and risks of metaphorical and yes, literal obesity.
Hidden city and legend of El Dorado
These are very difficult concepts to execute for many Americans because we are surrounded and bombarded by remade patriotic 19th and 20th century cheers of Seek in earnest El Dorado and you will find and sit on its throne. But the more feasible reality involves your immediate and intermediate circles of influence and experience. Beyond those lines, beyond those outlands are the experiences and lives meant for others, not just you. Everyone has a “sandbox” to build and play inside, but the walls enclosing your sandbox should never be inflexible nor perpetually expanding or worse, imperializing. Am I saying humanity as a whole should not collaborate for an improved more healthy sustainable self and planet? Not in the least, no. However, if every single human is supposed to build their own El Dorado, then it seems to me we will all manifest Aristotle’s fabled King Midas of Phyrgia turning everything, including ourselves, into unsustainable useless gold with 7.4 billion King Midas’s running around atop 7.4 billion useless thrones ruling an unsustainable golden rock-planet of 7.4 billion useless Phyrgia kingdoms! One fashion color and one fashion color only! One texture and one texture only! One food group and one food group only! Eeeeek…
Is that the life on El Planedo you want to live?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
Gaily bedight, A gallant knight, In sunshine and in shadow, Had journeyed long, Singing a song, In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old— This knight so bold— And o’er his heart a shadow— Fell as he found No spot of ground That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength Failed him at length, He met a pilgrim shadow— ‘Shadow,’ said he, ‘Where can it be— This land of Eldorado?’
‘Over the Mountains Of the Moon, Down the Valley of the Shadow, Ride, boldly ride,’ The shade replied,— ‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
— Eldorado, by Edgar Allan Poe
My wonderful daughter is soon graduating from four years of university. I could not be more proud. I reflect back to the summer of her upcoming freshman year and the many questions and discussions we had about what major to pursue and study. It is perhaps one of many far-reaching decisions facing all undergraduates. For some, it is a time of the highest anxiety they must address in their budding lives. I know, I’ve been there. Many of us have been there, right?
In a modern economy and job-market that has increasingly become highly specialized the last three decades, a new graduate likely wants to make a decent high wage to at least have the ability to pay-down college debts. While examining today’s competitive labor market, it isn’t much of a stretch or mystery to conclude that once your vocation has been decided, the choice could very well set in concrete the next 10-20 years of your working life, years that cannot be refunded! Oh and by the way, the job-market is usually dictated by what finicky consumers want and how they spend their incomes. Mix into that career-path-anxiety healthy doses of follow-your-heart advice, which often does not translate to 6-digit paychecks, and a college graduate begins perspiring and shaking. Oh and by the way, since 1995 the U.S. median income for four-year college graduates has remained pretty constant at about $47k per year according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Unless a new graduate with 3 or 4-years of tuition-debt lands a minimum annual income of around $70k to $80k quickly, they will not be able to keep up with inflation, cost-of-living with rent or a mortgage, likely loan interest, let alone raising toddlers, they will NOT be able to get ahead on $47k per year. If they are financially frugal and wise, they must put those dreams on hold until that high-wage career is landed, if it is landed. Enter more stress.
A career-path is indeed a huge ordeal and can possibly make or break a person. It is not to be taken lightly. But what are the driving forces behind the decision? What sort of life will those driving forces actually create? (line break)
* * * * * * * * * *
We now live in a part of the world, the Western Hemisphere, where wide choices of labor are unparalleled in the history of civilizations. At first glance, one would think this is a good thing. On many levels the advancements in medicine or technology, to name two, are indeed far and beyond other progressive ages of the past. They are two of many explanations for the planet having close to 7.3 billion humans to date; a number close to the tipping-point of what Earth can sustain. Why?
Two major factors have been the social evolutions of increased democracy and wide-spread education. These two alone have contributed greatly to the end of feudalism and eventually ushered in the Industrial Revolution leading workers out of the fields and into mass urbanization. Families went from hard subsistent living to higher social mobility and liberation in the span of one century! But with so much labor and social change come newer problems; some with hints and roots of old problems.
In the West where much of these advancements have taken place, workers are the unhappiest since the end of World War II. In two of the continents of labor-liberation, over two-thirds of Europeans — primarily in central and southern Europe — are dissatisfied with their jobs according to OPP Unlocking Potential in Oxford, U.K. In America 52.3% are unhappy — all of those workers being in the middle and lower incomes of the nation — and the happiness-scale has been falling since 2011 according to the New York-based non-profit research group The Conference Board.
Modern Kings and Queens
The foundation of the Industrial Revolution was laid by ideals and theories published in the late 1700’s. Economists David Hume and Adam Smith, along with botanist Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau, combined to create the earliest stages of manufacturing by the Division of Labour. Essentially this philosophy means turning a product or service from start to finish by one person/family, instead into many phases done by multitudes — highly specialized worker ants/bees, if you will — for the sake of Queen and country…and job-security. Today, those Queens, Kings, and countries are business corporations.
Balsa Muisca (Muisca raft) figure, Bogotá, Columbia; the symbol & origin of the El Dorado legend
Since the 1950’s and certainly after the Great Recession of 2008, as the previous stats indicated, Hume’s, Smith’s, and Monceau’s economic philosophy no longer satisfies the common-worker in the West. Very soon the same will be said, if not already, in the Middle and Far East. Indeed, the basic material needs of modern Western civilizations have been met post-WW2, or at least made more easily available to the less-privileged. However, with more freedom, more liberties, more competition, comes more and more shrewd marketing schemes and modern funding into Special Interest groups pressurizing all levels of legislation by those who stand to lose much more. In million and billion-dollar economics, ethical integrity by the major players becomes a risk they cannot or will not take and the winds of change apply only to an upward swerve of their bottom-line.
Yes, incomes and wages in Europe and North America over the last two centuries have been rising. They have reached their highest points in history for more than just the nobility and the wealthy few. Yet, it stops there. Along with clever complex psychological marketing, the average life-satisfaction surveys, or well-being stats, are surprisingly still flat; especially the last thirty-years! What has happened?
“I came to get gold, not to till the soil like a peasant.” — Hernán Cortés
In 1504 the collapse of the Aztec Empire of central Mexico marked the beginning of Imperial Spain’s Golden Age, literally. Cortés and his Conquistadors made off with wagon-loads of gold and silver catapulting he and his men — who back home had little to lose — into a new socio-economic class otherwise unobtainable. With that new status came not only heightened respect and popularity, but their native Empire’s greatest glory and colonial land expansion. What followed in the 1600’s changed the world forever: the Age of Exploration. For the peasants and servants of 17th century Europe, the hope of an entirely new life with riches either in land or wealth, or both, was too great to pass up. They came to The New World by the never-ending boat-loads.
Many immigrants were unaware of the great risks blinded by the glitter of the legendary stories. Disease, hunger, and angry natives protecting their homelands put the new settlers in harms way and the expeditions literally as do-or-die endeavors. In the modern era, the similar reckless obsession, perhaps disguised as the dream, is the amount of time American workers spend on the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in 2013 that the average U.S. employee between age 25 and 54 works almost 9-hours a day, 7-days a week, for a total work-week of 63 hours; the most out of all industrialized nations.
The highest-earning occupation in the U.S., attorneys-at-law, have the highest rate of depression and suicide as reported by magazine Psychology Today and a 1990 John Hopkins University study of 100 occupations. Perhaps shocking or not so shocking, lawyers are followed next by teachers and counselors, then secretaries according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 1990. Yet, still today universities across the U.S. report steady or increased enrollment into their law schools and medical schools, and not so surprising decreased enrollment into their schools of education (NTP 2013 Title II Reports) and counseling (BLS 2014 Occupational Employment). Care to guess why?
The dream of El Dorado has been the most commonly propogated and sought-after-dream sold to the masses by the Queens and Kings of the world. My 4-part blog-series Oversimplification 2012, as well as The Land of Opportunity? post, both address this modern El Dorado scheme in-depth. Fortunately, a new growing trend for more purpose in life beyond simply wealth and success is emerging. In my next post, El Dorado – Part II, I will explore further how and why the trend is growing, and warn against the biggest counterfeits of “a better El Dorado life.“
Have you discovered an empty “El Dorado” recently? How did you uncover the mythical town?
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always