January 13, 2019

Letter to a Friend

Photo: Ann Kreilkamp

Dear Friend,

Here is a short read for you:

Ann Kreilkamp
January 6, 2019

 “And thus, a few years later, was Green Acres Village born, first as a neighborhood garden, and then fully fledging as a potent little human community in communion with our Mother Earth. It has been evolving, organically, for over decade now, starting on the mental plane in 2007, when I took the permaculture design course, and was astonished to recognize in its principles real hope for a transformed world...

“It was just then, just when I had worked my mental/emotional system into a frenzied intensity, that I heard a little voice in my right ear: ‘No need for that. Just change perceptions in your neighborhood.’”

Here’s some folks doing something other than violent revolution or trying to reform our dead-end, powerful and wealthy-controlled way of living. They see what’s coming, like what happened in Cuba when the USSR collapsed and cut the Cubans loose.

I’m living from paycheck to paycheck. But I give what I can, a little each month, to help support liberal, progressive causes. I don’t have the energy, patience, social skills or thick skin to argue with the GOPers and Trumpers, or join political activist groups. Again, I admire you for confronting them head-on.

I can only think and write. I don’t need to write a dumbed-down Whole Earth Catalog kinda thing, for children or adults. There’s enough of that out there already. But thank you for thinking I might make a difference. 

I can only influence willing, teachable people with my thinking and writing, locally; and some of those who speak to me within my extended family, here in North America and in Uganda.

I agree, my writing can be improved. But in conversation I speak just the same as you and I do when we discuss stuff. I do not like intellectualizing PhD BSers any more than you do. 

Conversations in my little Owl & Ibis group are in basic language and based on facts and our personal, long life experiences.

Yes, I introduce some ideas from great thinkers past and present. I also introduce my original, anthro-influenced ideas on stuff. But we meet at OI to discuss and learn from each other and from the big thinkers, and challenge them and each other sometimes. We do not sit around and try to impress each other with big words. I think you confuse me with some university professors. I rejected that career, remember? Instead I worked in rural Africa for most of my thirty years of government service.

Kinda ticks me off you think because I write with too many words I’m an intellectual BSer. If you really read the stuff I write you’ll see that in a lot of it I’m telling the intellectual class, the experts, the rich and powerful, to stick it up their asses. 

Thanks, I feel better. :)

Maybe instead of your nephew pissing an inheritance away you could leave that big pile of money you’re sitting on to a local group in the town where you live that’s into permaculture.



Roxanne Cooper
January 12, 2019 

“But if TED and the 19th century lecture circuits—the new lyceum and the old—can offer us anything, it’s a reminder that science and research offer more than new knowledge. They come with a kind of aesthetic, and they invoke certain emotions—among them thrill and hope. ... [A] certain fuzzy optimism takes hold. There’s a promise here that would be familiar, I think, to anyone who’s been moved by a great motivational speech or sermon. It’s a sense that, faced with the grind of daily life, and the intractability of its problems, somehow, through some flash of understanding, the basic terms of our struggle will change.”

“Thrill?” I’ll pass. “Hope?” Okay, but not based on “fuzzy optimism” or “somehow” or “some flash of understanding.”

I am not dark, gloom and doom, or nihilistic. I am not a hedonist or an Epicurean. I am a realist, skeptic and flawed practitioner of Stoicism. I am only optimistic and have hope when there are reasons and evidence for being hopeful.

I was last hopeful about the US and Humankind, the majority of whom seem to follow our social and cultural lead, when Obama was elected and served as president.

When the US democratic election process replaced Obama with Trump I began publicizing my reactions and financially supporting progressive causes. I did not and do not financially support political causes because I think the US political and economic system, and the dominant beliefs and values underpinning that system, are irrevocably flawed and doomed to fail. I also did not go into hopefulness when Trump took over.

When Trump and his political party took office and began dismantling our government and subverting our democratic institutions, and accelerating the capitalist-consumer race toward catastrophe, I chose realism. It doesn’t make me feel as good as blind or faithful hopefulness might, but it makes me think I am being honest and truthful about the extreme peril we face.

When convincing reasons and strong evidence are absent I am not content with nevertheless being hopeful. That is, hopeful in the sense this writer describes it: “fuzzy optimism,” “somehow” or “through some flash of understanding, the terms of our struggle will change.”

I try to muster what average courage I have, study up, confront reality, do what is within my power and control to change that reality, then prepare for the worst, not the best.

Allowing myself an emotional hopefulness without good reasons or demonstrable evidence is no real comfort. There are no such reasons and evidence at present. Such hopefulness is like prayer or crossing my fingers for good luck. In fact it sets me up for grave disappointment if things don’t improve to my liking. Preparation, however, is a comfort.

After virtuous action has been taken on what one can control, the Stoics advise that one then prepare to accept what comes. Preparation they say involves, in part but not exclusively, visualizing possible negative outcomes in one’s personal life and more broadly.

Philosopher and biologist Massimo Pigliucci citing philosopher William Irvine, another expert on Stoicism, has a good approach to a personal or societal reality that has gone bad and is likely to get worse, “negative visualization”: https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/irvine-on-negative-visualization/.

I support my friends and all others who are hopeful for and work toward a more Enlightened country and world. I will stand with you and do what I can to help make a better reality return. All the while I will look forward to better reasons and evidence for hope than those currently being given.

December 12, 2018

The Evolution of Western Individualism, Part II of II

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) by Caspar David Friedrich

At the December 11, 2018 meeting of Owl & Ibis – A Confluence of Minds yours truly presented Part II of II of The Evolution of Western Individualism, "Individualism in the 20th and 21st Centuries, A Closer Look." A PDF of the evening's slideshow is here.

The following handouts were given at the meeting – Handout 1, Handout 2. As always, comments and questions about the presentation, slideshow and handouts are welcome. 
Topics covered during the presentation included:

Recap of Part I
Collectivism as a Reactionary Force
Measuring Individualism/Collectivism by Geert Hofstede
The Historical Spread of Individualism Beyond the West
Objectivism by Ayn Rand
Individualism in the U.S.
The Modern Rise of Individualism Outside the West
Neoliberalism & Individualism by Noam Chomsky
Closing Thoughts
   Individualism-Group Equilibrium
   Individualism and Morality
Individualism by John Steinbeck
Individualism by Oscar Wilde 

The PDF for Part I, "From the East African Rift to Silicon Valley," is here.

November 19, 2018

Enlightenment Lost: A Faustian Exchange of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for Self Glorification and Material Convenience

Nellie Bowles
The New York Times
November 9, 2018

Franklin Foer
The Washington Post
September 8, 2017

Imagine observing a group of chimpanzees in the woodlands of western Tanzania. One day, an otherwise ordinary member of the group decides he will affix wildflowers to the hair on his head and rub a red ochre paste on his face. Imagine further that he, so adorned, then swaggers among his fellows gesturing to his new appearance and pointing at and laughing disdainfully at his group mates. Finally, imagine that this same chimp begins taking overt and deceitful actions to get what the others consider a disproportionate share of food that the group has hunted or found. 

Three Questions
1. What do you think Mr. Special’s group mates will think of him, and what consequences might he face for such behavior? His fellows might ignore his appearance or find it amusing. Then again, the ranking male and female might take umbrage if the lesser females start given Mr Fancy the attention and deference they normally give to the two leaders of the group. Eventually and more probably, his antics regarding food, if they continue for some time, will likely result in him being beaten and/or driven from the group. 

2. Now, imagine a corollary scenario among a group of modern humans. Think of a business office situation where someone adorns himself and behaves in a manner suggesting to others that he is superior to them. And that he begins stealing or bullying to obtain promotion, wealth or communal resources to a degree that degrades the wellbeing of his group mates? For example, a cologned, well-coiffed, well-dressed Wall Street financial manager becomes known in the office for his vanity and arrogance. In his work he frequently takes action to demolish low income housing that will put thousands of low income tenants on the street in order to make way for the construction of expensive, highly profitable townhouses on the same land. Does our Mr. Profit exemplify the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity in his individual and business behavior?

3. How has it come about that the maverick among chimpanzees scenario is an obvious affront to chimp individual and group morality, yet the corollary among humans is acceptable? 

I kindly ask that you not jump to a conclusion, in the currently popular mode of “gotcha, see, I can think faster and therefore better than you,” that I’m a socialist using an evolutionary biology analogy as a rationale. Also, this essay is neither a sophistic argument intent on demeaning all points of view other than mine, nor an attempt at rhetorically deceiving you or clobbering you and your ideas into submission to my way of thinking. I kindly ask that you stay with me a bit longer. I’m simply trying to expand thinking not win points of argumentation.

First, I am not a socialist. During thirty plus years of working and living in Africa, observing firsthand how various forms of national socialism fail, I found little in that social system to recommend to any large society. Now, consider the following.

November 7, 2018

FROM THE ARCHIVES: The United States Peace Corps and Social Development in Africa

(Peace Corps Logos, Old & New)
A paper read at the University of Ghana, Legon, Department of Sociology
April 29, 1990
James E. Lassiter