Archive for the 'current events' Category

Breaking the puzzle piece

September 2, 2012

The Republican National Convention was a lot about upwards striving — a certain pattern of immigration and small business development.  Not a lot about downwards falling.

Rather than accept that what goes up is supposed to come down, I think some group of people at some point either misunderstood or tried to avoid the second piece of the sequence.  Instead of continuing to be willing and to follow where that leads, they don’t.  Maybe it’s an exercise of free will, maybe it’s being paralyzed by fear, maybe it’s through an attempt to use the human cognitive ability to change the circumstances externally instead of learning to accept external circumstance through internal development.  (I think humans have tried very hard to move as many things as we can from the “things we cannot change” category to the category of things we can.)

Some people do take the fall, even publicly.  Sex scandals, plagiarism scandals, cover-ups are some of the mechanisms.

Upwards striving seems to produce a set of attitudes towards life, downwards falling I think produces another, including compassion for other human beings.  There’s some variety within each set, but the sets as wholes are characterized by very different perceptions of the human condition.  People who avoid falling don’t collect that item on the scavenger hunt that is the spiritual journey — their art project needs some variation of that component.

If a person doesn’t want to fall and break, they sometimes try to break or change their environment instead — through medicine, technology, using other people — I see it as almost a form of cheating.  In fact the recent cheating scandal at Harvard reminds me of this sort of spiritual pitfall, because it, too, includes the claim of having been following the guidance of superiors (of teaching fellows in the Harvard case) and indeed all the answers come out looking very similar and it is not clear whether a process of learning and improving skills has been improved by the manner in which the exercise was undertaken.

A lot of perception, in my experience, is about rearranging understandings as if one could remake the (art project) collage over and over again.  I think maybe this process stops being available once a component has been broken in order to avoid playing it out in one’s life; let’s say one needs to experience loss, and one tries to avoid it through manipulating others or manipulating the environment.  (To use another Harvard cheating scandal, Ted Kennedy’s, it’s like having someone else take your exam.)  What we learn from the experience of loss is not learned if loss is avoided.  When the upward strivers go on about the need for creative destruction in capitalism, I want to say that it’s needed in spiritual life, too.  One of the components we need for spiritual progress is compassion.  I think this is acquired through experiencing and processing loss without hiding from its import and with honestly and fearlessly looking at what it reveals about ourselves, others, and the world.

That’s what I see in fearful and strident talk about refusing decline at a national level and about treating people who have fallen on hard times harshly — I see people who have refused to take the fall themselves or have shrunk from its import (I’m thinking about somebody like Rick Santorum here — he seems to have gotten some of it but not all of it, having filtered the feedback through some self-protective maladaptive coping mechanism, it looks like to me.)

I suppose if human cognitive ability got us into this detour in evolutionary development through willful avoidance it will also lead us back on track in some way.  Or, at least it can.  Or it could lead to a third way of human society developing, something that comes out of a combination of our lives as animals and our permutation of it through species willfulness.

We’ve been calling out for extraterrestrial help for quite some time by now, whether from gods, God, ETs, whatever.  The thing of it is, from my point of view, is that we don’t listen when we actually get a response.  In some ways, I think we’re stubbornly insisting on staying lost in this detour, of doing this our way, even if it’s dead end.


Social service survey

August 7, 2011

I’m not sure why this is on my mind, but about four or five years ago I found myself taking a phone survey for the folks at Big Brother Big Sister.  It must have been before my son was matched with a Big Brother, because that didn’t last long (instead of taking my son directly to the Aquarium as planned, he took my son back to his apartment and at one point threw him face-down on the bed and twisted his arm behind him, and we all agreed to go our separate ways within days of that), and I do remember my son spent a long time on a waiting list to be matched, so I probably got the survey call during that time.

So, I start answering the questions.  I think the survey was supposed to be about finding out more about their clientele, but at some point I remember saying to the young person on the phone with me who was reading out the questions, “I know you didn’t write these questions yourself, but do you realize that all the questions assume a certain level of dysfunction in the family?  They basically ask whether we are dysfunctional in this way, that way, or the other way.  I’m having a really negative reaction to that.”

The young intern suggested she have her supervisor, whom I think was a professor at a local university who was masterminding the project, call me — she would forward her my reaction.  And the supervisor did call, a few days later.

The supervisor/professor was interested in my reaction, and agreed that the questions did imply what I was inferring.  Then she said apologetically that they were the best set of validated questions she could find in the literature, and that was why she was using them.  I can’t remember whether she decided to rethink her use of them or in some way change the survey — I was too fascinated by the idea that this kind of research involved taking somebody else’s instrument off the shelf and using it.  I had assumed the questions had been tailored to some rudimentary understanding of the Big Brother clientele gleaned from applicants’ materials.

Maybe I’m thinking about this experience after hearing about Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to help black and Latino youth.  Because I do remember that part of my reaction to that was to express the hope that the initiative would be open to finding out what the needs of the people they are trying to help actually are, in addition to trying to meet their needs as the administration perceives them.  I am concerned that their perception may not be wrong as much as not include the whole story or be in need of some tweaking.

In addition, I think maybe everyone who relies on the results of such studies’ being accurate should have a sense of how they are developed.  I truly don’t understand why someone undertaking a study isn’t obliged to develop their own reliable questionnaire for it.  My experience certainly changed my sense that  researchers were testing a hypothesis with an accurate instrument or, in the alternative, that they were looking into a situation in a more open-ended way without bias.  As it is, I now realize I don’t really understand what it is social science researchers think they are doing and whether their methods really are sufficient to meet these goals, whatever they are.

Spiritual hacking

August 7, 2011

My attention was caught by part of a recent story about computer hacking that said that some of the targets seemed not to want to address the situation and take protective steps against being hacked.

In stories about spiritual hacking, things usually begin with somebody who is very open but untrained (could be a child) welcoming some spirit “from the vasty deep.”  (Shakespeare, Henry the Fourth, Part I, Act 3, scene 1, 52 or so)  The problem arises when the person has enough openness to let the spirit in, but not enough to pass the spirit out.  Sometimes the person likes hosting the spirit because of some perceived benefit, sometimes the person inadvertently maintains the spirit’s interaction by expressing anger or fear at the spirit, sometimes the person has all the technique in the world but just can’t pass the spirit because they have in the meantime gotten their spiritual plumbing clogged by intermingling with someone less open than they are.

But I thought of these stories when I heard about the computer hacking because sometimes the person actively resists giving up being “hacked.”  In such stories, a shaman may become involved, and by stepping into the shoes of the person hosting the hacker, interact with the spirit in a way that results in spirit’s going off on its way of its own accord.  The most dramatic stories are those in which the shaman actually has to do their own version of hacking in order to accomplish this without knowledge of the host.  I’m thinking such “virtuous hacking” is not done in the electronic world, despite the claims of organizations such as WikiLeaks, which is a different sort of hacking concept entirely, as I understand it.

The report about the computer hacking that I heard did not make clear why some targets were not keen to take steps about it, and I think the idea was expressed that others might be able to deal with the hacking at the level of the server involved instead, by getting the server shut down.  In the spiritual stories, that could only be done through access through a person hosting the hacking spirit.  Don’t know enough about internet structure to know whether the analogy breaks down here.  But as it is, it supports my sense that our computer and other electronic technology often tracks what is understood to go in the spiritual world.

Legal Doctrine and multiple perspectives

July 30, 2011

When I “did” legal history, I had the training to appreciate the development of legal doctrine and the training to appreciate the impact of social forces on human interaction.  I knew plenty of other legal historians who did, too.  I also knew some who pursued the discipline as a subset of intellectual history or even as an antiquarian game (often lawyers without training as historians), and I knew some others who misinterpreted developments in the law because they didn’t understand the legal significance to the participants of what they were observing as historians (often historians without legal training).

I suspect there’s an analog to this in appraising the events of the day (all this is a further reaction of mine to Joe Nocera’s column today — my original reaction is comment 6), and probably dividing the world into (only) two approaches for interpretation is overly simplistic, anyway.  We probably need multiple perspectives in order to get a reasonably helpful bearing on what’s going on and its significance.

But I think part of the problem here is that unlike getting training in multiple disciplines in a school setting and maintaining both perspectives simultaneously (including when we merge them in some way), when we live in multiple worlds simultaneously with respect to the events of our day, it’s harder to maintain each of those perspectives clearly.  For example, a teacher maintaining their professional perspective while noticing as an adult human being a student’s emotional needs runs the risk of doing harm if they cannot follow through on their emotional involvement in a way that serves both teacher and student.  Doctors and therapists and social workers have a struggle to be compassionate without becoming burned out.  House painters may just paint over rotted wood, or they may do some light carpentry.  People reporting on political events may start sounding like the politicians they are covering.  Politicians may spend more time on tv than on writing legislation.

This is why I think collaboration among multiple individuals can be helpful.  Each individual can maintain some kind of a specialty while also contributing to the bigger picture that will emerge from their joint sharing.

The maintenance of the specialty may have its own requirements, though, and sometimes these disparate requirements of different specialties practiced by collaborating partners are in tension to one another.  And sometimes what we may like to see as healthy collaboration is really some kind of enabling relationship — it’s sometimes difficult to discern what serves our personal attachment needs from what serves a greater good, but, on the other hand, it’s also possible to mistake, out of fear, a risky but healthy collaboration, for something to be avoided.  If I’m in doubt and struggling about what’s what, I tend to ask the universe to throw me another pitch, one that I can hit more easily if that’s in order, or one that makes it clear to me to hold my swing.