Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Make Love, Not War" - could this be true?


One day during the Iraqi war, I started thinking about the old idea "make love, not war". Could it be true that if our leaders spent more time making love, they would make less war? The media certainly has an easier time displaying violence and violent sex, rather than affection and loving sex.

Peter Good, author of The Monkey Experiment, called my attention to the cross-cultural studies of James Prescott -- which indicate that physical affection during infancy and adolescence reduces violence. So, "make love, not war" may even have a scientific basis.

We have yet to learn how to be for life rather than against life. Perhaps our leaders would do well to learn how to "make love, not war" and thereby set an example for a peaceful society. The following passage from Prescott is suggestive of a new way of looking at war and peace:

"The strength of the two-stage deprivation theory of violence is most vividly illustrated when we contrast the societies showing high rates of physical affection during infancy and adolescence against those societies which are consistently low in physical affection for both developmental periods. The statistics associated with this relationship are extraordinary: The percent likelihood of a society being physically violent if it is physically affectionate toward its infants and tolerant of premarital sexual behavior is 2 percent (48/49). The probability of this relationship occurring by chance is 125,000 to one. I am not aware of any other developmental variable that has such a high degree of predictive validity. Thus, we seem to have a firmly based principle: Physically affectionate human societies are highly unlikely to be physically violent."

from James W. Prescott, Ph.D.: Body Pleasure and The Origins of Violence. First published in The Futurist, April 1975, this version from The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, November 1975, pp. 10-20 (last modified 2002/05/11).

Image from McMaster University - U. S. Sixties History.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

What do we turn to? (part 2)


When Diane Shavelson heard my comments in Part 1 of "What do we turn to?" she reported changes within her lifetime in people's relationships to each other and media devices. Instead of seeking companionship, one turns on the TV or radio to fill up the room with voices and sound.

LISTEN TO "What do we turn to? (part 2)" (1677 kb; time 3:34)

Thumbnail image from Corbis.com image library.

Monday, December 18, 2006

What do we turn to?


How do we spend our days and nights? With people? With devices and media? Modern life has a new kind of turning to that's different from older societies. Now we turn more often to devices rather than other people. I've seen whole families sitting together at tables, each one with their smart phone communicating with others elsewhere (not those in front of them). Sad story it is.*


The Way We Live by Patricia Yollin, Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle, December 15th, 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

God in the Empty Places

I liked it when you almost said communicating with yourself rather than God. That's a lot of what God is for me. Maybe it's a personal god, maybe a guide, but when I speak to God I'm most often speaking to a part of myself. I'm not godlike, but that part of me is. In touch with everything, guiding my actions (I hope), telling me what I need to know. Maybe that's how God keeps us straight, or tries to—by living inside us, like a branch office in every city. A part of our being in touch with every other being, and there for us when we need it.

- Peter Good

LISTEN TO "God in the Empty Places" (time 3:23)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thought vs. action

"Better to act, than to wander around in dreams"
--from the Ramayana (ancient Hindu epic)

Over twenty years ago, I went down to Silicon Valley to present a consulting project that blended philosophy with business. My partner in this venture was a well-known existential philosopher who had resigned his bookish university job to become a management consultant to large multinational corporations.

We sought to transform short-sighted, profit-focused, C.Y.A. ("Cover Your Ass") corporate creatures into philosopher-executives. They would be modern-day versions of Plato's philosopher-king, embodying both leadership and wisdom.

My partner, much older and wiser than myself, put it to one of these anxious managers: "The difference between thought and action is that to think involves no risk; but every time you act, you risk death!"

He did not mean actual physical death, but the little death our egos suffer. To act is to risk failure; ideas that look so good to the mind don't always work out.

The corporate group was very impressed with our presentation. But in the end they did not buy the program. No one in the department dared to act. All our observations about their state of inaction didn't help. As I walked around the office I was amazed that anything ever got done. They looked like a bunch of bees buzzing around each other's cubicles. The place was filled with pleasant people, but deep down they were all afraid to do a wrong thing. No one wanted to look bad.

Peter Koestenbaum once told me, "Anxiety is what you feel between the thought and the action". Imagine how you feel on the edge of a pool of cold water, just before you jump in. You know you'll feel good after you do it. But the water's cold!

Life is filled with such situations. You have a good idea. You want to tell the boss. You know she might think it's stupid. You sit on the fence between thought and action. More often than not, you do nothing. You let the moment pass.

Companies are filled with people unable to act. There are worlds of fearful people out there. The decline of American productivity, I suspect, has a lot to do with this. A huge problem in government, too, which is why nothing gets done there either.

Some folks confuse talking with action. But talking is just dreaming out loud. I used to lead meetings. We would discuss ending the meeting, yet it would drag on. One day I discovered that all I had to do to end a meeting was to stand up! Talk may be cheap, but it can last forever.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger noted (Being and Time) that death provides us with the best opportunity to contact our utmost being. We immediately know ourselves when we're faced with death. Likewise, we may accomplish remarkable things in our dreams and fantasies. But in the light of day, faced with reality, we see who we really are.

If we live each day as if it is our last, we will not hesitate to act.

Eminem said it like this (Lose Yourself):

Look! If you had one shot, one opportunity,
to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment -
would you capture it, or just let it slip?


Monday, September 11, 2006

Coming home


I grew up in two worlds: Portuguese and American. I never felt completely at home in either world. I did not speak a single word of English until first grade. At home I spoke only Portuguese, and at school I heard only English. The feeling and thought patterns of these two worlds became locked up in separate language systems.

I felt uncomfortable whenever my parents came to school. I did not want my friends to see me with these people who spoke very little English. If one of my American friends came over to spend time at my home, my mother became very uncomfortable. Before long my friends stopped coming over, and I wasn't allowed to visit them. School became the middle ground and battleground between these two worlds.

We all live in many worlds. Some of us may be attracted to the transcendental, but at the same time want to live a worldly life. Many of us want to be free of possessions, but still have a beautiful car or home. Most everyone feels at some time that the "grass in greener on the other side."

The question "where is home?" is deeply important. I've always had two "homes". After spending time in either home, I would get an urge to go to the other home. At home with my parents, I wanted to be in school. At home in school, I wanted to be with my parents. That was the restless quality of my growing up in two different worlds.

At the moment of birth, separation from our mother's womb, we lose the most secure home of all. From then on is pure change. All humans eventually come home -- by physical death or by becoming enlightened or fulfilled.

Where is home? Being truly home is being centered in your real self - an inner center of gravity. Home is our own deepest center. If you don't find home within yourself, you'll keep searching for it outside yourself. Home is where we rest.

Home is where the heart is.

Monday, September 04, 2006

At home in the Park


In the spring of 1990 my business partner and I stopped at People's Park in Berkeley. We sat on a log among the homeless people. Some were cooking food. Others rolled around in the grass with their loved ones. Some smoked weed and some drank booze. Most dressed in rags, tie-dye shirts, jeans, long hair, short hair, leather jackets, and bare chests.

We were two businessmen sitting there with them—would-be land developers. Such was the power of People's Park to attract all kinds of folks. A worn-out looking Park resident came up and said, "What are you guys doing here? You don't belong here!" My partner responded, "We're people too!" We kept sitting. The long-term resident shrugged his shoulders, indicating we were okay. We had established our turf on a log.

Dozens of homeless people lived in People's Park. Eventually the University built a volleyball court, and pushed some of them out into the streets of downtown Berkeley. But the Park remains; people still live there. For nearly 40 years People's Park has been a symbol and a home to people who did not or could not live the "American dream"—all for different reasons. There's freedom there. It is a freedom akin to crossing the Frontier in a covered wagon. Dangerous, lonely, and alienating, but space and time are your own in a way that no mortgage payer or renter ever knows.

Some Park people refuse to live in shelters. They want the street. This is their home. Others were in complete misery. They were there because they fell off the edge of the housing market. Not enough money from odd jobs, too few friends and family, a mind slipping away from the stress of life, and no housing they could afford. A formula for coming to the street as home.

Some of my radical friends from 15 years back became disgusted with the Park. One noble liberal preferred to work for social justice from his antiseptic non-profit office, while taking offense at People's Park. He wanted those dope-smoking bums out. He was once a radical fighting the establishment—now he and his associates were establishment but they didn't know it.

I've had my moments close to the edge. Only my friends kept me from the street. My business partner had similar troubles. You owe it to yourself to hang out with the dispossessed. As the Depression proved, very little separates us from the street.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Just a Portuguese farm boy from Los Angeles

I was born in the Azores Islands—a colony of Portugal 800 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean. Some people claim the Azores are the peaks of the lost continent of Atlantis.

My father left the Azores for America before my mother and me. He got a job milking dairy cows in Southern California. When I was 2, he sent for us. Our first American home was a dairy farm in Los Angeles County, once known as "Dairy Valley," now the city of Cerritos. A huge shopping mall squats where our dairy farm was. All the open fields are solid tracts of houses, and a local community college.

Still, I remember the magic of the open fields, the smell of the cows and barns, the muddy roads in the winter, the smell of alfalfa ripening in the summer. Even more, I remember feeling connected to the universe, as I stared up at the planets and stars in the clear dark night sky. In this realm there seemed to be no problems. Until I went to school.

All my life I've felt like a minority within a minority. I grew up in a mixed community of Portuguese, Mexicans, and Dutch. The Portuguese were the fewest. First grade stunned me: my first encounter with English-speaking kids. The first word I learned in English was "stupid." They didn't understand why I didn't understand them. Eventually I learned English, and became a translator for my parents and the world around them.

When I was eight, my parents considered moving back to the Azores. I thought: Why should "I"—this particular self—be in America rather than the Azores? Why was I born "there" rather than "here"? Thus began my philosophical quest. That I would even think of asking such a question made me different from the other children. I tried to like baseball and football, but my appetite for reality became more intense, and refused to go away.

When I was much older, I realized that my parents had never really left the Azores. They talked about life on the Islands all the time—the physical beauty, the deep sense of community. Part of that community had rebuilt itself in Southern California. Those who were here kept sending for those back there. Yet they remained alienated from mainstream American culture.

I watched television for hours, wanting to be like the English-speaking people on the screen. Why couldn't my family be like them? I loved newscasts from New York City. In my high school public-speaking classes, my ideal was to deliver a speech like a New York City newscaster. Just like many American farm boys, I wanted to go to the big city. But I was already in the middle of a big city—Los Angeles. I just didn't realize it yet.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Who is the peacemaker?


When there's lots of talk of war in the news, it's a very natural response to wonder, is peace possible, and who is the peacemaker? I tend to react instinctively, and say that peace has to come from within, that one must learn how to be peaceful from a special place inside. But it's not that simple. Even as individuals we feel anger, and that anger festers inside, and somehow has to work its way through us, or outside us, it may have to create depression, or we may have to get angry and express it. Then it's over, like a storm it's over. I suspect that wars are like that. Some kind of emotional/spiritual toxicity develops, and there may be no way to avoid releasing it, which appears totally irrational and crazy while it's happening.

So how can there be peace? I don't have an answer. If I look to ancient teachings, like the Bhagavad Gita, there is a war between two groups, two families that know each other well. Arjuna and Krishna are in the field of war, and Arjuna says to Krishna, "Take me to the middle between the two armies." And for a moment, time stands still, and they contemplate the 'reality beyond the relative reality' of everyday life with all its killing. And Krishna says to Arjuna, "You know these people cannot really be killed. They always have been, and always will be." Yet Krishna also says to Arjuna, "You must fight, because that is your destiny."

It may be our destiny to fight and to kill, who knows? We are only human, after all. If even the gods must fight, perhaps we must too. Yet if there is ever peace, then that peace must have been our destiny too. Ultimately we may have no choice, but we have the very real illusion of choice. We can choose war, and we can choose peace. Who is the peacemaker? He or she who makes the peace.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Overbooked

While holding a corporate job, I decided to start a healing arts center. It was my first business start-up. It seemed a worthy cause – to promote holistic health and healing practices. My wife and I saw ourselves as healers. Unfortunately, I was not ready for the “busyness” of business.

I became overwhelmed with organizing, marketing, and money. In the end, I could heal no one, not even myself. My peace of mind was completely shattered. Something was wrong. I dropped the healing center and began a deep self-examination.

I had gone through the basic problems of economic society – a complex world with many demands. Nothing is done in isolation. Government regulations, financial issues, marketing and sales – all these and many more issues had to be addressed in starting and maintaining a business. Most start-ups don’t last more than a year or two. Parents and spouses usually want you to go to work for a solid company with a regular paycheck.

For those deep in the culture of entrepreneurship, having a packed calendar of appointments is almost a sign of status, a sign that you are making progress. Yet, when I look back upon such times in my life, I can only wonder at all the time and energy used up. Had I been wiser, I would have done less and gotten a more solid sense of achievement. I was overbooking myself. Now, I see myself in a society that is overbooked all around, with not enough time for real human value in all the getting and doing, in the midst of plenty.

The madness of too many things to do will make you forget who you are. (That is what losing your soul is about.) Every moment is the first & last moment of your life. Your entire life comes to a head at this very moment.

Monday, July 03, 2006

300 year vision

I’ve challenged students, friends and business associates to imagine a future 300 years from today. A simplistic short-term bottom-line focus is leading to a global “flat-line”! Let’s plan for life on earth 300 years from now, or even a 1000 years from now. We must become “Y3K” compliant! By way of good planning, execution, and wisdom we may get to the year 3000 with lives worth living. Seventh Generation quotes the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy on it’s recycled paper product packages:

"In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations."

I have grandchildren, and am young enough to possibly see great-grandchildren. For me, leaping to 300 years or seven generations is getting easy. Today's "little" actions impact our children's children. Our immense intellectual powers look into the edges of space-time, and with powerful computers model the trends of global warming. We cannot play deaf and dumb without seriously denying responsibility.

Environmental changes are slow. Mothership Earth is going down, but most of us don’t see or act upon it yet. The way to "humanely" kill a calf is by placing it in a vat of water and slowly turning up the heat. Eventually, the water gets hot enough to kill the calf without the calf noticing how hot the water really is. This will be humanity's fate on earth.

There are thousands of little, personal decisions made everyday that determine the next 300 years. Drive the car? How far? What kind of car? What is the fuel efficiency? Can we walk when possible. Do the office email at home rather than commuting to the office. What kind of paper products will we buy? How many children shall we have? How big a house? A second house? Do we need to fly somewhere for a vacation? Are there ways to feel wealthy without consuming mother earth?

The developed world is encased in technology. The solution is now more cultural than technological. Let’s breath free again. It's time for a great re-tooling, re-valuing of how we live, think, and exchange goods and services; time for a true revitalization of civilization along more human and earth friendly lines.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Atomic Friend


Lately, I've been playing around with the fanciful idea of the "atomic friend." This is not about nuclear energy, it's about how we perceive the world. When we look across the table at somebody we're having dinner with, for example, we don't see that person or friend as photons cast in our direction — we see facial expressions. Likewise, we don't perceive sound vibrations, instead we're aware of words and tones of voice, which themselves are as full of meaning as facial expressions are full of meaning.

This view of the "atomic friend" is something we get from subatomic physics, our perception of ultimate reality below what we experience in daily life. It's sometimes referred to as reductionism — the idea that we can define things at a level and say, it's nothing but that, it's nothing but photons, it's nothing but sound vibrations. Yet that's not how we experience life. We experience it with meaning, and love.

The same reduction process happens very commonly in modern society, without the benefit of any knowledge of subatomic physics. We just have to look at the sophisticated games people play around money and power, for instance. Instead of appreciating a child's requirement for love, many people simply give the child toys and money as a substitute for love. They've reduced the relationship to a very quantifiable thing called money, saying "Well, I can't afford to really spend time with you" — that's a subconscious thought, of course — "I can't afford to really spend time with you, but I can give you money, because that's what I'm spending my time doing, and here's the money that expresses my love." Well, somehow the love gets lost in the experience. It's like reducing facial expressions to photons.

It's the same with manipulating people as pawns in power games, in order to aggrandize one's own self or ego. One can manipulate hundreds or thousands of people as an executive, without much concern at all for the feeling experience of the manipulations — like moving a factory from one part of the world to another without experiencing or even paying attention to those things, because we've reduced it to a game of money and power, saving money, or the wonderful joy of the power, being able to move all those materials and people from one place to another.

These behaviors, I like to say, are truly unconscious.

Hear the mp3 audio: HERE

Audio to text transcription, editing, and augmentation
by Peter Good. Cartoon by Terry Pettengill.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paradox of possessions

Money, time, and love are the three legs of true wealth’s stool. What is money? It is a symbol for value, it is information; it is abstract. Humans are driven by symbols to go to war and fight for abstract causes. Money, being utterly abstract, is often valued more for itself than for what it actually buys—it is the ultimate “field of dreams.” Individuals and societies measure self worth by financial net worth, but this devalues the deeper qualities of awareness and soul that are the true source of all value.

It’s been said, "He who dies with the most toys, wins!" This is both true and not true. Some say, “Money does not matter,” but quietly and privately we fear poverty. Fear of homelessness, hunger, and a drop in social status drives many to an insane focus on money—at any cost. If you are poor with a positive state of mind, you may still suffer a sense of emotional degradation just from the social stigma of poverty. Such fears are well-founded in societies that fail to attain true wealth, since the members of those societies know they can and do fall into poverty. A world based on fear cannot be wealthy in any real sense.

Many of the “richest” people in the world are always “hungry.” Much shopping is for useless trinkets to replace the lack of meaning and love in life. Many a parent, for example, who has no time for talking with their children, will just buy toys. Most people identify with the stuff that they own as an extension of their personal ego.

Our possessions can own us. Attach ourselves to our possessions and we immediately lose our sense of true wealth. The very desire for not-yet-owned possessions breeds greed and lust. We suffer endless rounds of grasping for the goods that will make us “happy and full.” We get “more” but immediately need to get “more” again. There is no end in sight.

Walking by a beautiful garden filled with iris flowers, someone might think, “I don’t own it, how unfortunate!” So they miss the simple of joy of the experience. You don’t need to own things in order to enjoy them. To really “have” something we must be present to it. Taking time to appreciate the existence of an object, a friend, or a place is really having that object before us.

(This text taken from an article of mine titled "Realizing True Wealth" that first appeared in Verna Allee & Dinesh Chandra (Eds.) What is True Wealth & How Do We Create it? Indigo Press, A Division of Print and Media Associates, New Delhi, India, 2004.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

De-materialization of money

For years, I carried little pieces of gold, jade and silver in my pocket. I got the habit from my friend Glenn, who enjoyed buying small amounts of gold and silver along with hunting for jade at Big Sur beach in California.

Jade, silver and gold make excellent money tokens. The de-materialization of money started with paper money. Originally, paper money was "backed" by gold, silver or other tangible items. Later, we removed the "backing" or base of the money. Effectively, debasing the money.

Electronic computing turned money into intangible data configurations stored in computers. Actually, "money" is even more intangible than the computer's memory and electrons. It is the meaning that we give to these configurations that define money. Money has absolutely no physical basis at all, not even the electrons. It's all mental.

Money is a matter of conventions of social trust between us, banks, and governments. Inflation, deflation, monetary collapses are proofs of the conventional status of money. That should make us free of the spell of money, but it does not; for we depend on social conventions of trade and exchange for survival in our age of specialization.

Friday, June 02, 2006

With what do we buy our money?


With what do we buy our money? Many years ago, I was giving a talk on wisdom in the world. At the end of the talk, I was approached by an old man. He came up to me and said, "I want to ask you a question." I said, "What's that?" He said, "With what do you buy your money?" I thought about it for a minute, and said, "With your life, of course." He said, "You're right, and I wish I had known that when I was much younger. For all my life, I worked for money. I put all my time into working for money that I thought I would enjoy later on."

He explained that he just never thought about anything else except working to save money, to put money away, to plan for the future. And the future had arrived, and here he was, an old man. And he expressed that he had a sense of bitterness about that, that he hadn't achieved an earlier understanding about the importance of living life, and that he had indeed bought his money with his life.

Audio snapshot

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Seung Wook Kim: virtual reality and phenomenology

Seung Wook Kim is one of my Graduate Student Instructors at IDS110, Introduction to Computers. In the Spring 2006 semester he lectured on "Virtual Reality and Phenomenology". With so many of us spending massive amounts of time in cyberspace, this is a vital subject.
Podcast of "Virtual Reality and Phenomenology"