Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

We organize about what is important, and what we can effect positively.

My preference: social well-being. Individual/families/communities/regions/macro-regions.

As I’ve written previously, I’m a gadfly on two prominent modern socio-environmental concerns.

1. Global warming – My feeling is that it is obviously occurring, and human induced, but that there is literally nothing that I or even a globally consented movement can accomplish to eliminate the introduction of excessive carbons into the atmosphere currently, or in the time frame of even my children’s lifetimes. The most that we can do currently is assist in the response to its symptoms, to think ahead, to be of help.

2. Peak oil – My understanding is that current oil price hikes are entirely driven by a near-fully consumed supply chain for oil with bottlenecks in refining and transportation, and virtually no current limitations due to well-head supply relative to demand. In between 20 and 40 years, the wellhead supply limitations might periodically comprise a real bottleneck.

What is the solution to a problem that isn’t in fact relevant? Its not even a question.

And, if the focus of organizing efforts is misguided, then the solution to those stimuli will also be misguided. A difficult example for me is the advocacy of nuclear power by some environmentalists and intellectuals like Stewart Brand and colleagues. They conclude that carbon toxins in the atmosphere are a primary problem, and in putting their minds to solving the problems they come up with what they believe is the least-worst solution – nuclear power.

My own evolution of social-environmental consciousness included first as a late teenager a sense that we were spoiling our nest, that we had made a beautiful world into an ugly one. I joined utopian efforts (real ones) to make a better world. In an attempt to proceed to pragmatism, from a utopian fantasy approach (communes), I sought to learn skills and to articulate arguments against the status quo, to persuade others to participate in creating new institutions with a critical mass to sustain as institutions and systems.

It was ultimately not successful. The needs to continue in the rat race, with existing partially successful options, was a better individual choice than to invest in new principles of economy that were still gambles.

Then the concept of global warming came along. We had already concluded that the world was screwed up, but didn’t have a measurement, a scientifically authoritative declaration. I/we new that car emissions were horrid. The global warming thesis was a global phenomena, not just utopian. It required international policy decisions to implement solutions.

Global warming became the reasoning to support “the world as it is must change”.

I’ve come to feel that the thesis is of a religious nature. Individuals that would achieve a simple life by eating together, carpooling, sharing a large house for their own merits, have been asked to first reference global warming as a conditional credo, a prerequisite to eating together, carpooling, or sharing a house.

So, I prefer a different primary motivation for doing ecological good.

I believe that there are real goals in the world that require attention, summarized as the effort to improve social welfare within an ecology so social scales. (Person, family, community, region, macro-region)

The concentration of wealth in society is a real problem. It renders the marketplace less of a responsive mechanism for optimizing the utilization of scarce resources. It relies on the fancies of a few families to direct capital to provide for all of the “blood-flow” of the economy. As money chases after dependable profits, it tends to invest where services are already developed. The concentrated wealth system is structurally designed to neglect locales and communities where capital is needed. It devalues the contributions of nature to services that humans must benefit from in favor of human-created services, and thereby then devalues rural value addition and life.

The creation of increasing masses of unassimilable toxins in the environment is a real problem. There is no downstream ultimately. In many locales where toxic wastes have been “successfully” dumped, that is no longer feasible. In the oceans for example, toxins have circulated widely, and even in parts per million of some substances have hindered reproduction, caused species-wide dysfunctional mutations, disturbed the food chain, and created larger and larger pockets of dead zones at the mouths of major river systems particularly that affect regional ecologies and the people that rely on them.

We’ve used much of key materials and have not instituted the degree of recycling required to continue to benefit from the use of those materials. Such formerly common materials as copper and zinc, that are used WIDELY in our industrial society are now scarce.

We overconsume. We’ve depleted fisheries, land, water, forests.

We have high fixed costs of living, including high debt.

The solution to these problems resemble the solutions are also solutions to issues of global warming, but solutions to global warming are not solutions to these overarching social problems.

I suggest that we emphasize comprehensive social welfare as our rallying cry, with the spirit of “enough”. When we’re confident that we’ve achieved a critical human need, lets be content individually and socially with enough, and move on.

By “comprehensive social welfare”, I mean the measuring of a person’s/family’s/community’s/region’s well-being per one of the comprehensive assessments systems now “on the market”, and then committedly endeavoring to improve social welfare imaginatively and synergistically.

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Are we making progress individually?

  • Our family?
  • Our community?
  • Our region?
  • Our planet?

How do we know?

In order to tell, to compare, to decide how to use scarce resources, we have to measure in some way, and every measurement is going to contain cultural biases, be incomplete and contain some emphasis that becomes self-fulfilling.

For those of us that accomplish more than we rebel, the phrase “what you measure is what gets done” applies.

So, what do we measure and how does it relate to making real wealth, a real good experience with the prospect of real good experience for others in the future?

I’ll be attending the “Slow Living Summit” in Brattleboro, VT this week – June 1, 2, 3  (http://www.strollingoftheheifers.com/slow-living-summit). Come.

I know quite a few of the presenters. Many are visionaries, and doing practical work, trying to cobble together a coherent effort to achieve a sustainable society. To work together rather than disparately, to make something real and dependable rather than utopian and speculative.

Much of it is against the grain of conventional urban/global economy.

(Geography affects our vision of utopian. Specifically, that north of Hartford, CT, on the Connecticut River there are distinct cultural shifts. Hartford and Springfield house the global insurance centers of the world, serving global literally. The global commercial market vision is the utopia.  Springfield and Holyoke house the formerly regional industrial center of New England. When one reaches Brattleboro, the site of the “Slow Living Summit”, the inaccessibility of the stream watershed hollows define a world of rural self-dependance more than community inter-dependance, more than regional economy, or global economy. The shift in worldview in that short 80 mile stretch is distinct, profound, divisive.)

The ruralist consciousness of Brattleboro is the host of the Slow Living Summit. The global economy is what you read about in the New York Times and on cable television. Not surprising.The sustainable rural economy is the content of the summit, and is actually another vibrant source of future visions.

The concepts of living well in nature has gone far (actually cyclically given the degree of wealth and social complexity that Indian society was able to achieve). We have the integrated thinking of permaculture that integrates practical and efficient food and shelter services with aesthetics with personal liberty and with the ecological world beyond our immediate experience and affects.

The rural/urban dichotomy will be a conflict (or negligence) of the summit, inevitably. The rural sustainable solution is more anarchic. The urban sustainable solution is more designed.

That dichotomy will infuse the question of “how do we tell?”, as the question includes the assumptions of differing social values, and particularly which ones are relevant and/or controllable.

As the measure of our success is our experience, my feeling is that the  metric of social welfare must be results based and not preference or strategically based.

In a nutshell, we can tell if we are making progress if we achieve:

1. Current survival and functional minimum necessities for all in the geographic scope that we are investigating. Food, shelter, water, warmth, clothing, health care, transportation, education.

2. Confident survival and safety in the foreseeable future

3. Interpersonal connection, love, friendship, family (society)

4. Work and service accomplishment and basis of earned respect

5. Spirituality in action, spirituality in contemplation/aesthetics

How do we know we are succeeding? What do we measure? How?

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I have a very religious son, a chasid, who is visiting during a break from his studies at a yeshiva in Paris.

We had a conversation yesterday  (probably more me speechifying) on how to remember the sacred in work, and in the world.

I’ve known many that have proposed approaches to accomplish that sanctifying of real life, but few that have actually done it, and dependably. It seems to rest on questions of what is the purpose of human life, beyond just surviving and enjoying.

In Jewish thought there is a dichotomy between sanctification (noting the presence the “ONE” in all actions, relationships and things) and idol worship (worshipping the work of one’s own or others’ hands). I also see it in the process of feeling shame (giving power to others’ rather than to the “ONE” to judge. God  judges, but consistently forgives and transforms. People only judge. Good friends forgive and assist in transformation.)

So, I’ve learned that the process of thanking cuts through the norm of taking our world for granted. It particularly affects how one relates to money and all economic activity.

Our current economy dehumanizes. We exchange without any appreciation for the work and natural gifts that went into products/services. The specialized structure of the economy divorces MANY from productive contribution, from livelihood, from meaning. And, the large capitalist anonymous economy creates a slow sucking of value from nature, people to capital. (I hate to sound like a rabid Marxist, but it still is true.)

So, the question to me is how can the economy be humanized? And, the question to my prayerful orthodox son is how can economy be sanctified?

To humanize economy, to humanize our relationship to it, starts with our thanking. I daily pick up a product that I’ve bought (its astounding how many products pass through my family), and ask “what work was done to get this to me, for me to use?” The answer is always MUCH more complex than it looks.

A pen. The parts of the pen are the plastic covering, plastic ink holder, ink, metal/plastic tip, plastic pen cover. It came in paper packaging with sealed plastic film covering. I bought the pen at a Staples store, with checkout (a large process, not just a single person), stocking, ordering, lots of indirect overhead expenses. It was shipped to the store, involving loading, driving and fuel and vehicle, unloading. Before that the product was packaged, boxed, palletized, moved around a warehouse. Before that the batches of pens were assembled, usually with machiness, inspected. Before that the materials were compiled, the plastic molded, the ink chemically mixed, the metal head cast. And so on and so on.

Each of the persons that contributed to each of these processes has a name, a body, a mind, emotions, a personal history and current situation, mostly likely some struggle.

Each of the processes was done in some locale, where money is sent in compensation for the work, to contribute to their local or anonymous economy.

Maybe 400 people could be identified as contributing to getting this pen designed, made, packaged, delivered, distributed, sold. Each with a name.

I thank each of them individually. “Thank you for packing this pen in pallet # 24000657”. “Thank you for mixing ink chemicals”. “Thank you for packing the mixed ink chemicals in preparation for delivery to the pen assembly plant”. “Thank you for putting this pen packaging on the shelves.” “Thank you for accepting my money in payment for the work that went into the pen.”

My money, my spending, shifts to an embodied “thank you”. A humane business executive paying his employees, would convey my thank you to the employee accompanying the payment of their compensation check (or electronic transfer). How do you say thank you in the process of an electronic funds transfer?

For my son, at each phase, has to be added, “Thank you Creator of the universe for providing x employee with all of their needs so that they can healthily make my new pen. Thank you Creator for creating the laws of nature and physics, from which the material to make the pen originates. Thank you for your presence in my using the pen, in the consciousness of all that contributed to me getting and using the pen.”

As a daily exercise, this will change you, even if poor, underemployed, spread thin.

More than choice, thanks. More than thanks.

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I will be attending a presentation by an old friend, Tom Barefoot, tomorrow night in Northampton on Gross National Happiness.

It is happening at the Media Education Foundation offices at 60 Masonic Street, Northampton, MA at 7:00 pm. Come.


A group of Vermonters have been meeting to formulate ways to assess whether their communities are succeeding or not, whether people in the state are happy, and growing happier or less so.

Many factors affect one’s sense of well-being. The measurement of well-being is by definition subjective, and therefore any standard definition will be subject to criticism. The choice though is whether to measure something that provides a great deal of objectively comparable information, or to neglect to measure what is important.

I looked at the GNHUSA website and the methodology that they use to measure happiness, and frankly my impression is that it needs work. They have a link to a “sustainable Seattle” questionnaire that also seemed a little thin to me (that’s my code for needing work).

I have an alternative.

It is also simple, and is derived from Maslow’s heirarchy of needs. It is a measure of results, not of causes.

1. Survival:

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past month, and expect to over the next month (0 – 9)

A. Food                                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Water                                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Shelter                                            0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Warmth                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Free from Illness/health         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sleep/rest                                      0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Work                                                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

2. Safety/security

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past five years and expect to over the next five years?

A. Food                                                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Water                                               0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Shelter                                             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Warmth                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Free from Illness/health         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sleep/rest                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Work                                                  0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Safety from bodily harm           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

I. Safety from persecution             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

3. Love/Belonging

To what extent did you successfully meet the following needs over the past five years and expect to over the next five years?

A. Close friends                                     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Multiple acquaintences                0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Close family                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Fulfilling love relationships       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

4. Esteem

To what extent did you achieve your goals for self-respect and respect of others over the past five years?

A. Career and/or life achievements  0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Mastery of a profession or craft     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Development of confidence             0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Respect of others’ accomplishment   0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Respect of you                                        0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

5. Self-Actualization

To what extent did you achieve your goals for self-fulfillment, in action and experience?

A. Ethics                                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Creative expression                              0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Design/problem solving                     0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Peacemaking                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Acceptance and magnaminity         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sincerity                                                    0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Study                                                           0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Work life in the “zone”                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

I. Sense of humor, irony                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

J. Self-motivation, determination       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

K. Self-reflection                                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

6. Spirituality

To what extent did you realize spirituality in contemplation and action? To what extent did you inspire others?

A. Sense of unity of all things and

your connection to ALL                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

B. Sense of truth                                          0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

C. Sense of beauty                                      0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

D. Life of heartful passion                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

E. Sense of harmony                                 0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

F. Sense of surrender/agency               0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

G. Inner courage                                         0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

H. Contemplation                                       0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9

If you are willing, fill out the enclosed questionnaire, e-mail it back to me, I’ll enter the data into an analytic “happiness” spreadsheet and I’ll tell you how happy you are. (a joke, not really. I think the measure is representative.)


The data and interpretation varies by age. Students tend to be very confident of their survival, security, belonging needs, but have not yet experienced sustaining esteem building accomplishments. Unemployed tend to score low. Elderly tend to score low.

I think that largely reflects reality, how happy people really are.

The top score is around 120, the lowest around 1. If social welfare is the measure of the success of an economy, this scoring institutionalizes the assumption that a fully actualized financially secure person generates at maximum 120 times the well-being of a poor and depressed and alone person.

It does suggest that if resources can be dedicated to near universal survival and security, that that realizes a higher impact on community welfare than highly educating and nurturing a single person.

Whats the right number, the accurate difference between the optimal and the minimal happiness in the world? 120, 240, 24000? Hard to know.

It is a certainty that a relatively small amount of resources creating a safety net makes a BIG difference in social welfare. Whether charity or government should make that safety net is an open question.

And, whether we, through our employment, our charitable institutions or through our governance, are realizing optimal social welfare per the activity in our economy, is another profound question.

In measuring social welfare, as distinct from individual welfare, it is also an open question whether scores of youth should be weighted comparably to scores of elderly. Maybe we should weight the scoring socially by years of life expectancy remaining (squareroot of 25+ life expectancy. I at 56 would be weighted at the squareroot of 55  – 7.6, while my 19 year old son weighted at the squareroot of 82 – 9.1, while my 86 year old mother would be weighted at the squareroot of 25 – 5.0). I know. I’ll never be elected president for my advocacy for “death panel” social welfare scoring.

The primary concept of referencing social well-being as the measure of success or failure of an economy/society rather than secondary measures like GDP or cumulative gross net worth, is sound, more than sound.

The question now is to develop tools that are credible enough to be trusted sufficiently to be used, and then relied on (and always refined).

There is a tendency to attempt to measure cause in too great a detail, to the point that the metric itself embodies specific sets of values that are not universal in fact, and then represent an imposition of the values by the measurement. In this exercise we need to measure. We live in a democracy with contending worldviews and definitions of success. To the extent that the measure itself is free from bias, it will be relevant, accepted, used.

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What Can We affect?

I/we can’t affect the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, other communities than my own. I/we can only vote and write to affect American foreign policy, our own. That is extremely limited. I/we can’t really affect the decisions of publicly traded corporations, even less so for privately held large corporations.

There are things that I can definitively affect, even “control”.

I can determine much of my personal and family life.  I am responsible for my personal relationships, and can make good ones.  I have limited financial resources, so as much as I would like to retrofit my home to reduce energy consumption by 75%, I don’t have the money to do so. I can earn income though, save, and invest it in personal energy improvements if that seems best, or elsewhere.

I can cooperate with friends, neighbors, formally and informally, to meet my and others’ needs more efficiently and become more connected to neighborhood and community.

I can start enterprise with the available capital that I do have. If I have a good idea, a real one, I can attempt to gather capital from friends, colleagues, even strangers to form enterprises that do make substantive changes in social life.

I can participate in governance, serving on town boards, say to influence zoning, or public investment in energy conservation.

There are elements of public policy that I can affect by articulating a better argument, and that organizations can affect by multiplying the affect of a better argument by citizen numbers and dollars.A people united. (But, I always encounter some difference between my views and organizations’.)

It is possible to affect a sustainable society with what we have at our legal disposal.

We have to be serious about it, value our own work, not be wasteful with time or money, attentive to social relationships, making room for others’ participation, open to address contradictions in our own reasoning.

Through prayer, I’ve started to learn the importance of trust, specifically trusting my own needs and desires, as a means to trusting others’, and to articulating actual intentional change that addresses current and anticipated stresses.

I’m learning the importance of doing rather than thinking. Its a different reference for me, what I/we’ve accomplished, in contrast to what I’ve written, said, thought. But, it is important. Wishing is NOT ENOUGH.

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Growing Up?

I’ve been surprised that even at 56 years old, I can change, learn things, even fairly fundamentally change important things in my life. And, I’ve been made aware that the things that I have learned, I have to reinforce to continue to be functional.

I like it. Just dreaming is over.

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I love the evolved Jewish commitment, that of tikkun olam, which I understand has two respects:

  1. The intimate internal commitment of personal depth, sanctity, integrity, balanced mindfulness, humility before/in relation to God
  2. The external commitment to healing of the world, of social relationships, to help others in their need, “to love thy neighbor as thyself”

All the time, every breath, every day, every week, every month, every year, every generation, every life.

In Jewish thought, there is the concept of the “Jewish soul” as special, even of special obligation, which on the surface seems to be a trivial racial privilege (not earned, but by birth). There is a more expansive way of relating to the concept of a Jewish soul than just that privilege.

In accounting theory (auditing), there is the concept of “substance over form”. In auditing, the concept is an attitude of skepticism that asks specific questions about whether a written lease is really a long-term financing agreement for example, with the consequences that rather than the form of the transaction defining a current expense, the substance of the transaction is the gradual payment down of a long-term debt. The IRS uses the term “facts and circumstances” to describe the same inquiry.

Spiritually though, I ask “what is really occurring?” So, for example, when Jews use the term “adonai” to refer to ONE/God, and Muslims use the term “Allah”, I don’t conclude that Allah is a false god, an idol. If the substance of their relation is the same then they are referring to the same.

Similarly with the term “Jewish soul”. What I call my “Jewish soul” is the part of me that seeks to heal, to maintain and improve relations, health, etc. So, those that express that part of themselves, and beyond what can be thought of an exchange, I describe to myself as having a kindred soul, a member of the “brit”, the conspiracy to transform the world to goodness.

I know people that think that the only scope of that mending the world happens in political relations, say in making peace, or in realizing justice in the world. But, I see the scope of that instinct/obligation to include all facets of life from the most intimate to most remote, of husband to wife, brother to brother, friend to friend, fair business exchange, governance, avoiding war, really literally “all my relations”.

So, I observe that almost everyone that I’ve met in my life has some element, in some degree, of the urge to make things whole, that it is a human characteristic, a native one, an instinct.

(In discussion with my local rabbi, he informs me that Jewish tradition does speak of the 10 lost tribes, that its not just in Indiana Jones movies, which says to me that anyone could be racially a Jew – mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, etc. It reminds me of the story in many traditions of great saints or even messiah hiding in the guise of a simple person, a stranger, a poor person, an ignorant person. An opportunity. A test of our sincerity.)

So, I read shacharit, mincha and maariv daily. Right now in me, the experience fans the flames of my universalistic interpretation of tikkun olam. I am reminded often (three times/day) of my real purpose, the sensitivities that serve that purpose are exercised, and I am made confident that if I sincerely try to do it, that I also land on my feet emotionally and economically.

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