Sunday, July 17, 2016

Found What You Needed… and other myths


I am embarking on a long-awaited journey.  It was one that commenced one year ago when I spent a week of solitude at Tara Mandala in Pagosa Springs, CO.  I was the recipient of the kindness of a few close friends who knew that my life was at a point where deep contemplation could be just the right intervention to examine, and potentially address, some of the growing dis-ease I was experiencing.  Throughout my life, I’ve been thrilled to have experiences born of a world-view that is based on well-beingthe capacity for an individual to engage at liberty without diminishing the equivalent capacity for others.  For as many years, I’ve marveled at the near-universal response I encounter to my chosen path of life.  While an intrepid few are more than delighted to receive what I offer and manifest and find their own pathway to equivalently offer and manifest that which I and others can experience, the vast majority absorb and take with no recognition of the exchange and currency of well-being.  As a photon in isolation is not light until it engages in coherent energetic transmission with other activated photons, so I was finding my light illuminating far less than I thought it could.  So, my week long hermitage was a moment to disentangle from the reflectors, absorbers, and diffractors, and examine the photon that is me.

In a recent message, a dear friend made the statement, “I’m glad you have finally found what you needed.”  Today, in a casual conversation, another friend said, “It’s sure hard to find good news we need these days.”  As I was engaged in the curious human activity of selective aesthetic biome alteration (better known as weeding) in which I was removing plants that seemingly effortlessly proliferate in favor of the selected plants I want to thrive, my biome altering accomplice mused about how plants find “what they need” to survive.  Find.  Need.  There they were again.  Two words that serve as a cognitive fulcrum in my brain over the last year.  What was it about these two words that so voraciously consumed my thoughts and emotions?  How could it be that the first statement did more to confirm my friend’s lack of awareness of my essential nature than almost anything else she could have said?  And is there anything about the three comments that all converge around something that is worth considering more deeply? 

The etymology of the word “need” suggests that the term is derived from an old Germanic word signifying “danger”.  Since 1800, it’s prevalence in English literature has increased nearly 800%.  This may suggest that in about 200 years, we’ve become needier.  Ironically, need’s companion “want” is a bit less prevalent and only doubled during the same 200 year literary period.  In 1943, Abraham Maslow’s paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” published in the Psychological Review put “need” into a social model built around a “hierarchy of needs” that has become the de facto justification for nearly every enterprise or effort.  The base of his pyramid is elemental – calories, air, water, shelter – and is based on a principle of “protection from the elements”.  As though the ‘elements’ are conspiring to do you in.  From there, you get to “safety” – another term that implies an absence of a generative, caring nature.  From there love, belonging and then esteem – all needs that must come from others.   Somewhere at the top – and loosely linked to the concept of “need” – he placed self-actualization and later self-transcendence.  Tragically, Maslow succeeded in brainwashing an enormous swath of humanity to a belief that they were operating in a secular model identical to most religious dogmatic memes which place cosmology in a conflict with humanity.  Something’s out to get you.  Be afraid.  NEED, for Christ’s sake!

Do plants “find” the nutrients they “need”?  Do humans “find” partners and settings that fulfill their “needs”?  Does the 8ft ceiling in your home fulfill your “need” for shelter?  Does the job you have or the degree you earned fulfill your “need” for esteem? 

What’s wrong with “finding what you needed”?  Well, for starters, everything.  Let’s assume that you are the sum of about 724 trillion cells (give or take a few trillion if, like me, you are follicularly challenged).  Let’s assume that your amazing fact of existence is so delightfully complex that you don’t even think about your breathing, your heart beat, your digestion, your animation, or much of any of the other 7 primary organ systems in your body.  Do you have any idea what actually benefits the very systems that you don’t even know exist?  Are you sure that whatever you put in your mouth last is good for your lymphatic system?  Did you even know you had one of those systems?  Of course not!  And even if you whipped out your Wikipedia, you’d still not know if the chocolate you ate was pro-reproductive but anti-digestive.  So just eat the chocolate, enjoy it, and read on.  What’s the point?  The point is that none of us live in abject “need”.  None of live in relative “need”.  And if we think we “need” to “find” something – or think someone else does – how presumptuous can we be?  Millions of people fill their experiences of living with NEED.  Need stuff.  Need connections.  Need relationships.  Need intimacy.  Need relevance.  Need, need, need. 

Here’s an idea.  I’m starting a discipline of removing “need” from my vocabulary.  And not just my vocabulary but the vocabulary I choose to be exposed to.  The irony is that my friend who was glad I “found what I needed” never realized the joy of living in a world in which being fully grateful for the abundance that surrounds each and every moment calls forth a human impulse that never entered Maslow’s hierarchy.  There’s another form of humanity – one that inverts the pyramid of need.  One that realizes that the basis for human existence and interaction STARTS with emanating from one’s core essence.  Being the most beautiful and authentic expression of who you are and what you’re meant to manifest on this earth.  Oddly enough, starting from that point, you’ll find yourself coherent with others similarly manifesting.  And who knows, maybe they’ll become your co-conspirators to serve the world, maybe they’ll become your lovers and partners, maybe they’ll band together and give you confidence and support, and maybe they’ll share a roof, a table, a blanket, and a meal with you.  There are only tens of thousands of years of evidence showing that living in, and emanating, gratitude for abundance is persistent and generative. 

On this anniversary of my monastic journey, I’m grateful to know that there are a growing number of people who are awakening to the realization that there’s a life more beautiful than one defined by need; more beautiful than one defined by labels, titles, social conventions, norms, and all other contrivances to withhold life from living.  And I’m glad that my journey to Tara Mandala still serves to remind me to BE the person I authentically am.  Fully provisioned.  Fully equipped.  And ready for whatever and whomever comes my way. 


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Dangerous Gift: The Gift of Knowing


I am flying to Sydney Australia on United 839.  United has been one of the most important utilities in my lifetime carrying my life in relative comfort to all corners of the globe.  The flight crew was particularly helpful on this flight.  On my way back from the bathroom, I went to place my ring encrusted with the insignia of tribes in Papua New Guinea on my finger and it slipped down into the complex workings of the seat.  Fifteen minutes later, I knew more about seat 4D than I ever thought I’d know.  I also knew that M&M’s, ear plugs, and all manner of mystery lurks beneath the seats!  I don’t know when the last service crew vacuumed under the seat but I know that it’s a bit cleaner now.  I also know that I found my ring. 

We were 7 hours into the flight when this little episode happened and, fully awake, I decided to watch Concussion. This is the story of the CTE brain injury involving the NFL’s retired players’ disproportionately high incidence of significant neurological damage resulting in suicide, profound disability, and destruction of quality of life.  Near the film’s climax, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian pathologist who was responsible for the work leading to the CTE inquiry makes an interesting statement. 

“I have a dangerous gift, the gift of knowing.”

I cared about this film for a bunch of reasons.  One of my colleagues in graduate school went on to work on brain injury and had much of his work supported by the NFL and by helmet manufacturers.  I count as many of my dearest friends current and former players, some of whom suffer from the effects of CTE.  As I’ve worked with them over the years, I’ve come to love them for the fierce elegance they bring to life and I count that experience one of life’s most cherished gifts.  I love the idea that, with greater awareness, there may be interventions that can preserve the game and preserve their lives.  I know that the NFL’s denial of evidence is driven, not by bad individual commissioners, league executives, lawyers and owners.  I know that the entertainment and gaming billions of dollars create an illusion of something that cannot survive the truth.  And tragically, many great men (yes, mostly men) cower in the face of the truth.  When billions are at stake, telling the truth is quite unpopular.

There’s a reasonably good chance that I may be suspending my writing of Inverted Alchemy for some time.  The reason is simple.  By carrying torches into crevices far darker than the NFL’s brain injury cover-up, I’ve learned the value of Dangerous Gifts.  By having unusual abilities to sense into things that are subtle traumas in the lives of others, I’ve been able to help many.  But this has come at a dear price.  It has cost me love, friendship, external validations of “success”, opportunity, credibility, and unspeakable inhumanities.  And while “being human” is routinely used as an excuse for weakness or failings, I’m at least one voice that takes the opposing view.  Dr. Omalu was fully human.  And like the intrepid fellowship of those who chose to stick to their “gift of knowing”, he paid dearly. I salute him and I salute the entire production effort behind telling his story.

But as I watched the film, it dawned on me that I wanted to write a very different blog post.  Not one that reminds us about our willful neglect of each other and our harm of our own well-being.  Not one that highlights ever more egregious examples of corruption and destruction.  No, I wanted to immediately write a thank you letter to a few people who you may not know but you should.  They are people that have decided to make this week an amazing week.  And, by the way, before I go any further, let me state that I’ll leave many great people out of this list.  That’s fine.  I’ll get to you later.  This is written for people I don’t usually mention. 

Before getting on this flight, I had a wonderful opportunity to appear on CNBC.  M·CAM was asked nearly a year ago to consider providing a metric for the “innovation economy” that would update or replace the industrial models set forth over 120 years ago with the advent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  This impulse to help measure the innovation fitness of publicly traded companies was substantiated by the great work of Hayden Luse, Pam Cole, Stuart Holman, Bob Kendall and the General and Limited Partners of the Purple Bridge funds.  But before that, the first impulse arose in conversations with Joe O’Shea while he worked at GE Licensing & Trading in the early 2000s.  During our work on the index with CNBC, a phenomenal man and colleague, David Spiegel asked us if we’d help measure the innovation fitness of private companies applying for the honor of being on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list.  Led by Dex Wheeler – one of M·CAM’s greatest unsung heroes – we came up with a scoring mechanism that contributed to this year’s rankings.  And because of David, Nikhil Deogun, Gina Francolla, and Steve Lewis, I was invited to sit on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and help unveil the metrics of the Innovation Economy.  I’ve spent 21 years preparing for those 4 minutes.  And I’m deeply grateful that this moment happened.

Just one day earlier, David Pratt, Colleen Martin, Pam and I went up to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Those of you familiar with any of my work know that I have been the world’s most outspoken critic of the patent system and the abuses thereof.  Years ago, Jay Erstling suggested that we develop systems that could allow the world to understand the quality of patents that were being issued around the world.  On a rainy afternoon in Geneva, WIPO Director Francis Gurry let fears far more ominous than the NFL’s CTE issue overrule what ethics would dictate.  Francis knew that if the world could see the abuses of the patent system - the millions of lives that are lost to patent restrictions around health care, communication, agriculture, energy, water and so much more - trillions of dollars of corporate corruption would be at risk of being exposed.  So he buried it.  But on Monday, the Under Secretary of Commerce and Commissioner of the USPTO invited me to present our work once again.  And not just in one perfunctory gathering.  We met with judges, executives, economists, and technologists to discuss how reform could come to the world of innovation.  Had it not been for the advocacy of the U.K.’s Tony Clayton, the U.S.’s Alan Marco, and the hospitality of Janet Gongola, this would not have been possible.  These individuals went to the mat for a voice that has been silenced for years.  I’m deeply grateful that this moment happened.

And I’m on this trip to meet with a number of individuals in Australia to discuss how to align the future economy of Australia with the transforming economic landscape of the world’s market.  Through the persistence of colleagues like Richard David Hames, Laurent Labourmene, Christine McDougall and Adam Jacoby, a new conversation is emerging that may hold promise for new models of public policy, academic activity and scholarship, and economic engagement.  I was sent on my way with the blessing of Colleen who has valiantly and lovingly endured three decades of living with the Dangerous Gift.  And I’ll be engaging this conversation with Kim Phillips who is standing taller each day as partner and colleague. 

There’s no question that the old adage “Ignorance is Bliss” has a siren seduction to it.  Sure, if you didn’t know, you could simply muddle your way through life.  But the “Gift of Knowing” comes with benefits far more precious than any elixir of ignorance.  The Gift of Knowing comes with the amazing act of humanity that says, “I’ll stand with you.”  And of all people, I’ve been most blessed by those few, beautiful, amazing, wonderful, souls who have borne, even if for only a moment, the most Dangerous Gift.  Napier Collyns, without your request, this blog would not have been written.  Hundreds of posts later, I want to thank you, above all, for asking me to start Inverted Alchemy in 2008!  It has been a true gift!  Godspeed, fair winds, and following seas!


Friday, May 27, 2016


Flashback to flash forward... Fulcrumage is upon us!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Zombie Capitalism


As the world stares in disbelief at the U.S. elections, what I find even more incredulous is the abject failure of anyone focusing on the elections that really matter – the Class 3 U.S. Senate races.  The Republicans have 24 seats up for elections and the Democrats have 10.  These are the races that matter and no one is watching.  Far more impactful than the illusion of the Presidency (see my novel Coup D’Twelve) is the power wielded by the Senate and this class is one that could tackle some of modernity’s greatest challenges.  Towards the top of that list is the looming financial crisis in the welfare and pension system known as Social Security.

When Social Security was enacted in 1935, the retirement age was established as 65 years of age.  In 2016, this sounds like the prime of life well before death.  But in 1935, life expectancy was 60 years.  In other words, the majority of the working population was never supposed to live to receive any benefit as the program was set up to deal with the inconvenience of those who lived too long.  In 1935, only 15% of the working population had any corporate pension plan.  By 1970, this had tripled to 45%.  In 1974, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), what was meant to increase the private sector employer’s responsibility for retirement economic security had within it the seeds of the demise of retirement income as we know it.  But more on that in a minute.

Living longer presents a host of problems for a system that was designed for working until death.  With baby-boomer retirement, the nearly 3:1 ratio of workers to retirees is expected to drop to about 2:1 by 2035.  The Social Security Board of Trustees reported that their cash reserves will be exhausted by 2035 with all of their programs running decreasing cash reserves since the peak in 2012.  In 2000, about one quarter of the population relied on Social Security as its primary source of retirement income.  Last year, that number rose to one third.  Of current retirees, nearly 2/3s rely on Social Security as their primary source of income and these are the ones who will experience the coming economic shocks the hardest.  To make it to cash-reserve burn out in 2035, the Social Security program must decrease benefits by as much as an estimated 21% while increasing the collection of payroll taxes.  And what makes all of the statistics most troubling is that they’re all incorrect.  Together with the private pensions under the ERISA programs, Social Security funds and their life-expectancy are based on a series of assumptions that do not hold. 

Since the mislabeled GFC of 2007-08, the intervention of Central Banks to pump low-interest capital into the economy has allegedly averted the crisis facing the markets in the wake of reckless behavior.  This intervention did have the effect of moving citizens into deeper debt linked to real estate investments.  Creating massive overweight investment focus on real estate and, in so doing, extending the cash-flow requirements for workers well-beyond their pre-retirement years places compounded risks on a system that’s already fragile.  The same government that creates agency loans for real estate is the same government that invests in the debt of its citizens.  That same government uses these debt instruments as the “assets” that backstop the pensions and pension liabilities that are due in the future.  So, when the 21% benefit reduction hits the market and defaults on real estate assets start climbing, the very “assets” that insure pensions will be illiquid at the very moment that beneficiaries are stretched to address their indebtedness.  This correlated market risk is not factored into the actuarial assumptions for public or private pensions and the tsunami is already in the water rushing towards the unsuspecting public. 

Historians suggest that the Greeks stored olive oil as a means of securing their economic security in times of instability or at latter stages of life.  As it was relatively easy to store and could be monetized at will, olive oil was a prudent commodity to smooth the effects of changes in economic status.  Government-backed real estate loans are not olive oil!  When Thomas Paine suggested that the American experiment should include old-age investment support to deal with poverty in his treatise Agrarian Justice (1795), his efforts were to modernize the nearly 200 years of “Poor Laws” that had built massive social failures for those in dire straits.  In 1882, piano and organ manufacturer Alfred Dolge established America’s first corporate pension program which, regrettably failed due to the failure of the business.  Eighteen years later, 4 other companies joined Dolge.  Despite these early efforts to recognize that rent-based labor was inadequate to sustain the life of laborers, at no point did the market or public realize that it was industrial capitalism, not end-of-life charity, that was the problem.

So, as we look forward into January 2017, we’re going to encounter a looming super-storm.  We have the 115th Congress that will take its place to preside over the collapse of the Social Security paradigm as we know it.  We have corporations who have been so derelict in reporting the status of their pension funding (which is under-funded and over leveraged in many instances) that the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) has doubled fines on those who don’t report adequately in a desperate effort to get more money.  Bloomberg reported on what’s become known as “zombie pension plans” and the fact that financial managers are frequently abusing these funds to the detriment of their fiduciary obligations.  The PBGC has been petitioned to reduce the financial obligations of pension schemes as a growing number of programs are under-funded or outright insolvent.  And the PBGC itself is not clear whether it has enough money to cover its obligations without curtailing benefits. The “baby-boomer” zombie pensions are coming home to roost and those who think their retirement is covered have another think coming.  We have ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which will move more corporate treasuries (and jobs) overseas well out of illiquid pension retrieval reach.  And we’ll have a President who…, oh that’s right, who isn’t qualified to lead the country through any one of these storms – saying nothing about all of them descending at once.

I’m going to writing more about the critique of capitalism as it’s practiced now.  Regrettably, we have not had an intervention-free experiment anywhere on earth yet so a critique of the principles is inaccessible in any date.  But what we know is that by failing to measure the value of humanity’s contribution to the march of industry, many of the laborers who have been chewed up by the system are going to have serious tummy aches when they find out the promises that the capitalist system made are as soulless as… a zombie. 


Monday, May 2, 2016

Somewhere Over the Rainbow


In 65 AD, Seneca the Younger wrote in Naturales Quaestiones Book 1 that a rainbow “requires both sun and cloud, and these opposite to each other.”  Optical physics informs us that, to see a rainbow, we need to be positioned at approximately 42° from the interaction between sunlight and rain or atmospheric water droplets to perceive the refraction of light.  All of which adds to the apparent mystery that took place at 6:30am AEST on Saturday, April 30 around the Spring Cove Sydney Harbor.  While we were commencing our morning yoga and meditation at the Breathing Enterprise inaugural laboratory at the Manly Q Station beach, a massive rainbow appeared before the sunrise in the East!  Aristotle, Seneca, and others have explained that morning rainbows are to the west and afternoon rainbows are to the East.  But this rainbow, on this day, didn’t get the memo.  It sprung up in a solid light column in the southern bank of the Sydney harbor opening and arched its way north to the Manly beach.  The sun had yet to rise yet there it was – a gorgeous arch of brilliant colors.

During the weekend, close to 60 of us were working through an intensive process of reorienting our perspective to examine the human condition and see if there are some principles in nature that could inform and better serve humanity’s interaction in the world.  This involved a number of modalities engaged to deconstruct and integrate principles that are observed in nature to examine what makes them Persistent, Generative, and Infinitely Orthogonal while most, if not all, of our human systems seem to “require” effort and conflict.  Using a method recently described by Jacques Derrida in his 1967 work Of Grammatology and sympathetic to works of Gregory Bateson, Bertrand Russell and others, I sought to awaken the minds of the participants by holding tension between the words we use – the technology of language – and the essence that they seek to awaken or engage.  Deconstruction is a rigorous process and it stretches everyone to the edge (and for a few, beyond) their comfort zone.  In the film I produced with Kaya Finlayson, Future Dreaming, I discussed the ways in which we’ve enslaved our human experience with language.  I was intrigued, throughout the weekend, how many people, in spite of the explicit critique of our terms of indenture (having to “make a living”, the “need for…”, “if I had…”), continued to use as justification for their feelings of hurt, isolation, and purposelessness the illusion that the world is somehow conspiring against them and that they’re trapped.  “Yes, I’d love to do things that deeply engage my true sense of purpose but I have to go to my job to make a living…”, was a refrain that echoed in many early hours of our interaction. 

When light passes through a droplet of water, the luminance of the sun is refracted and is subtly dispersed based on the wavelengths within the light.  Shorter wavelengths (blue) appear to distinguish from longer wavelengths (red) and the appearance of difference emerges.  Our perception of the energy of light allows us, through the introduction of a temporal variation optimizing the spectrum, to manifest a momentary appreciation for dimensions that we could not otherwise perceive.  The droplet of water – a time and space machine allowing for more precise discernment in the moment – is to light what the Breathing Enterprise laboratory is to the consensus energy of our social systems.  By placing the droplet or the experience into the flow of existence, we can discern the subtle components of what appears to be an indecipherable whole.  But like the rainbow which affords distinction in the unseen ray of light (you don’t see the shaft of light that is refracted by the droplet) so to does the deconstruction of language-linked reality afford us to perceive components that were not otherwise available for distinction and discernment. 

Many enterprises strive to be capable of delivering a consensus product or service.  “Come to the workshop and you will…,” is the siren that brings people into the modality of the modern social technology of learning.  When we discussed The Awakening, I was very explicit on the fact that this was meant to be a laboratory – not a workshop in the common use of the term.  Quite ironically, inspite of the clarity of that message, some people came expecting what they’ve been conditioned to experience in the past: an event that is constructed to salve the pain of the consensus illusion.  These people left in frustration and in varying degrees of motivation to malign and diminish.  Others came having no idea what to expect and it was in the very willingness to engage in the not knowing that their insights and personal break-through moments happened. 

See the funny thing about nature is that it’s wisdom is available in its observation, not in its manipulation.  The rainbow on Saturday couldn’t happen yet it did.  And the life-transformations – the reality that for the first time many people uncovered as a path to their lives’ purposes – which also lay as fallow prospects in the distant memory of most manifest not because of a “truth” that was shared.  These came about because of the dance between light and the storm.  I’m deeply honored by all of the team in the Breathing Enterprise and I’m deeply honored by all of those who came and stuck through the process to the end.  For in the end, we found our true beginnings and that, my friends, is the pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Panama Papers and the Paralyzed Public


Close to 800,000 French citizens lost much if not all of their monetary wealth including a reported 15,000 single women in the Panama scandal.  510 politicians had pocketed bribes to keep the matter out of the public eye.  Many were indicted.  Of the few who went to trial for admitted corruption, all were acquitted save one minister for city development who committed suicide.  After the press broke the scandal, there were allegations that the leak of information to the public was part of some deeper anti-Semitic agenda as some of the middle-men were dodgy Jewish financiers.  When all was said and done, corrupt politicians involved in covering up the deception pocketed over half the total 1.8 billion Francs that were stolen from the public.  And nothing changed.  This was 123 years ago and the event was the bankruptcy of the Panama Canal Company.  The public outcry led to lasting reform and the people all got the justice that for so long had been denied them.   Oops!  No.  In fact, this evisceration of public investment led to the distressed acquisition of the Panama Canal by the United States for about $40 million dollars and the permanent loss of economic assets by the French public. 

When the report of the leaked 80 gigabits of records of Mossack Fonseca was published in February 2015 (a year before the public learned of the “Panama Papers” scandal) in Süddeutsche Zeitung the scope of corruption of public officials and corporations was not fully understood.  The next 2.6 terabytes of data – ultimately uploaded to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington D.C. – were reviewed revealing the records of nearly 10% of all offshore companies with land holdings in Britain.  Edward Snowden referred to the Panama Papers as the “biggest leak in the history of journalism,” knowing full well he’s holding onto the even bigger leak about other corporate activities that will make tax evasion and asset hiding child’s play.  And by this, I’m not referring to the SZ comment that, “what’s coming next,” may include a lot more information about Americans and American corporations.  What I’m referring to is the massive number of U.S. corporations that have used their commercial access around the world for corrupt and clandestine purposes referenced in Hank Crumpton’s The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service

What do the Panama Paper’s tell us about ourselves?  What is the significance of the Panama Papers in the larger context of the economic system in which we operate?  What does it say about our political leadership to realize those who are setting public policy see their own policies as so odious that they need to evade their own rules? 

The Panama Papers evidence, above all else, that the illusion of the dominant economic framework of our time is a rigged game.  While I’ve been a long-standing critic of the immoral worldview that was promulgated by the Judeo-Christian contrivance of human “dominion” over everything – these papers genuinely indict those who perceive beneficence in the “unseen hand” in the market place.  The unseen hand is connected to the public’s pocket and has been picking it for longer than anyone wants to admit.  The hypnosis under which most of the general public operate – that finance and politics are beyond the remit of the pedestrian brain – is as much to indict as the actors that prey on this apathetic social meme.  And it’s rather important to note that the ICIJ did not release all of the records.  In other words, editorial decisions about who to vilify and who to shield were part and parcel of the “greatest leak” to date.  In short, even those who are allegedly at the vanguard of disclosure are still holding onto the illusion that someone somewhere needs to be the “bad guy” and someone else is “not”.  Like so many disclosures before, the paternalistic determination of what the “public needs to know” supports the very information arbitrage that keeps those in power in power and those without power impotent against the certainty that corruption marches on unabated. 

The Panama Papers conveniently demonstrate the genius of the British Empire.  In the First Article of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, the groundwork for revenue shifting and base erosion (the OECD’s term for tax evasion) was laid in subtle most favored nations concessions ratified by the United States, His Britannic Majesty and the Dey of the Regency of Algiers.  In the agreement to an inviolable, universal peace – a lofty sounding concession – the ability for the Empire to preserve its banking and asset shielding status was solidified.  And while the United States – having recently gained independence from Great Britain – was going to turn into an industrial juggernaut compared to its former colonial master, Great Britain, its laws, its concessions to aristocracy, and its financial institutions was going to have the last laugh repatriating the wealth from the very lands it had “lost”.  In short, the brash American experiment failed before it even had a generation under its belt and the Panama Papers are just the tip of the iceberg when we see how much the British Empire controls or holds in terms of global assets.

I have encountered, over the past month, a stream of humanity who have all lamented their incapacity to “do something” about the certainty that they have that the economic house of cards is about to collapse in a manner far worse than the GFC in 2007-08.  From the “consciousness-minded” to the mercantile industrialist to the entrepreneur, the sense that the game is rigged is universal but equally universal is the perception that there’s not a damn thing that you can do about it.  This is not the case.  But like most other systemic failures, when massive “leaks” are released, it’s important to look at what else is moving in the shadows while the focus is on the “leaks”.  For example, during the week that the world was focused on the Panama Papers, no one seemed to focus on the 2016 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers issued by the White House.   In this document, the Obama Administration addresses the motivations behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement signed in February 2016 in Auckland.  So while we’re talking about tax shelters, we’re explicitly working to install tax policies that favor U.S. trade advantage for the estimated $131 billion per year from our trading partners in the Pacific, “because we know that when the playing field is level, our workers and businesses can compete – and win – in the global economy.”  Cool thing is that when level means “flowing in favor of the U.S.” the winning is a bit easier.  Create enough noise in the Atlantic and Caribbean and no one will look in the Pacific!

So what’s it going to be?  123 years from now, will this bluster in the Caribbean be yet another in the long line of humanity being robbed, feeling like it’s incapable of responding, and then being primed to be robbed again?  Is this another time when we acquiesce to the establishment and our notion that corruption is a necessary evil?  Are we unwilling to call out the violations of social dignity because somewhere we know we’d do it ourselves if we had the resources and the power to do so?  Or are we ready to play on a different playing field – one that doesn’t require leveling because all the contours and sand traps are known to all the players?  Are we willing to use models that are not based on corrupt incumbencies and be courageous enough to face a world in which our “salaries”, “assets” and our “economic status” do not define us but our productive engagement and social utility does?  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Abundance Manifesto – What’s Mine?


“And so in war; if the campaign is in summer the general must show himself greedy for his share of the sun and the heat, and in winter for the cold and the frost, and in all labours for toil and fatigue. This will help to make him beloved of his followers." – Xenophon’s Cyropaedia

“And then the banquet came to an end: the guests rose, and Cyrus stood up with them and conducted them to the door.
And to those who went home he gave many gifts and sent them away well content, both officers and men.  After this he distributed among his own soldiers all the wealth he had taken at Sardis, choice gifts for the captains of ten thousand and for his own staff in proportion to their deserts, and the rest in equal shares, delivering to every captain one share with orders to divide it among their subordinates as he had divided the whole among them.  Thereupon each officer gave to the officers directly under him, judging the worth of each, until it came to the captains of six, who considered the cases of the privates in their own squads, and gave each man what he deserved: and thus every soldier in the army received an equitable share. But after the distribution of it all there were some who said:
"How rich Cyrus must be, to have given us all so much!"
"Rich?" cried others, "what do you mean? Cyrus is no money-maker: he is more glad to give than to get."
When Cyrus heard of this talk and the opinions held about him, he gathered together his friends and the chief men of the state and spoke as follows:
"Gentlemen and friends of mine, I have known men who were anxious to have it thought they possessed more than they really had, thinking this would give them an air of freedom and nobility. But in my opinion the result was the very opposite of what they wished. If it is thought that a man has great riches and does not help his friends in proportion to his wealth, he cannot but appear ignoble.  There are others," he went on, "who would have their wealth forgotten, and these I look upon as traitors to their friends: for it must often happen that a comrade is in need and yet hesitates to tell them because he does not know how much they have, and so he is kept in the dark and left to starve.  The straightforward course, it seems to me, is always to make no secret of our own resources, but to use them all, whatever they are, in our efforts to win the crown of honour.”
With these words he proceeded to point out his visible treasures, and he gave an exact account of those that could not be shown. He ended by saying:
"All these things, gentlemen, you must consider yours as much as mine. I have collected them, not that I might spend them on myself or waste them in my own use: I could not do that if I tried. I keep them to reward him who does a noble deed, and to help any of you who may be in want of anything, so that you may come to me and take what you require."  - Xenophon’s Cyropaedia

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required: and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.  – Luke 12:48, The Bible

The gospel accounts in Matthew 25:13-30 and Luke 19:11-17 have been a near constant obsession since I was 11 years old.  The story is simple – or at least it should be.  A master is heading out on a trip.  He calls together three servants and to one he gives five measures, to another he gives two, and to another, one.  And then he leaves.  After an indeterminate time, he returns and asks them to give account for what they’ve done.  The one that was entrusted with 5 invested and returned 10.  The master was pleased and entrusted him with charge over ½ of his estate.  The one who had 2 also doubled his wealth and was given charge of ¼ of the estate.  And the one that had one said that he had buried it for safe keeping and was returning it intact.  The master was furious and ordered the one measure to be given to the one that had returned 10, and punished and banished the last servant.  (Bummer for the communists among us – Jesus justified the rich getting richer!  Occupy that 99%ers!).  And these two stories fuel the fabled admonition that if you’ve been “given much, much will be required.” 

But the cunning linguistic avoidance of all the wisdom in this story and the failure to put it in the context of the passage where the admonition actually comes from robs us of much wisdom.  No one in the story was “given” anything – they we’re entrusted as stewards.  And their accountability was not to aspire to being defined by their assets but rather to return even greater value to the master.  At no point did the assets change ownership.  They remained, at all times, in the discretion of the master.  And nothing about being a steward transformed the servants into “masters”.  Cyrus the Great did not see spoils of war as “his” but merely that which he “collected”.  Throughout the accounts of his life, he constantly embodied stewardship.

stew·ard·ship (n):  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

I’ve experienced some poignant reminders lately about why Cyrus and the gospel parables have been both haunting and motivating throughout my life.  Several years ago, an armed soldier thrust the barrel of an automatic rifle at me and yelled, “I can take your life.”  Without missing a beat I responded, “You can’t take something from me which is not mine to give.”  When you have a gun barrel at your chest, it’s a bad idea to confuse the gun wielding angry man.  But it was somewhat amusing to observe that the power of the gun seemed to be entirely overtaken with the cognitive dissonance my response unleashed in the poor guy’s head.  He lowered the barrel and simply gazed at me with a far-off puzzling look as I walked away.  This experience, for me, was confirmation of the reflex of stewardship.  The recognition that life, ideas, experiences, people, and resources are not mine.  I am merely the collector and steward of those things that have been placed within my sphere of influence. 

So I’m puzzled when I hear people refer to ideas that I’ve shared as something they “control”.  I find myself deeply hurt when I hear someone refer to groups of people as “my contacts” or “my group”.  When work that’s been developed in collaboration suddenly is appropriated as “mine” or subject to “my” control, I wonder what purpose is purportedly served.  When I developed the technologies that have ranged from laser surgical devices to linguistic genomics unstructured data analytics to hieroglyphic enciphering to anechoic materials to optomagnetic synthetics to accretive arbitrage finance, I know that none of these were “mine”.  They represented the accumulation of all my observations and experiences in a context in which their manifestation was possible. That they achieve scales of impact beyond the ordinary and are of inestimable value doesn’t make “me” rich or powerful.  Because these concepts (wealth, power, status) born of aspirational dominion are of no consequence in reality.  They feed illusions that beget separation and isolation.

I’m working with two different groups on highly disparate projects.  In one instance, I’m seeking to build enterprises around the many assets that have been manifest in my corporate activity.  I have carefully conscripted individuals with precise competencies to the table to work with us on harvesting the value that we’ve validated.  And much to my sadness, this impulse has engendered a response of appropriation.  “I’ll take this from you,” is the response to an offer of collaboration.  This response has been a near constant companion to each moment I’ve extended the enterprise table to others.  In another deeply personal instance, I’ve watched as a massive catalyst for deep social transformation has become the basis for claims of proprietary control all the while knowing that the substance of the catalyst – an impulse coherent with humanity’s best expression – transcends containment and dominion.  When did we lose the recognition that we’re in this thing called life together and we’re entrusted with the tools, insights, connections, and networks through which we’re provisioned and by which we can provision others?  When did we stop observing Light and recognizing that energetic transmission – not hording or absorbing – is the ideal condition? 

I stood on the green marble rostrum at the United Nations General Assembly hall yesterday in New York City.  I was invited to speak about the work I’ve done to find peaceful resolution to conflict in places ranging from Central America to Central Asia to Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.  I have no idea whether I will ever stand in that spot again.  So this was “my” moment, right? No, I spoke about the wonderful experiences I had with combatants and refugees during the Nicaraguan conflict in the 1980s, the amazing fellowship I had with Lawrence Daveona, Chris Uma and the combatants at the Morgan Junction access road to Panguna Mine, and the myriad of people around the world with whom this life has intersected – people who will likely never stand in the great hall of the United Nations.  This was not MY moment.  It was a moment for all those who have shared their journey with me and entrusted the story of our lives to me!

We’ve all been entrusted with various amounts of life, experience, story, legacy, resources, networks, friends, capabilities, etc.  These are not “ours” and they defy the idolatry of turning them into appropriated artifacts.  They are merely those energies over which we have the opportunity to exercise stewardship.  And, if we’ve been entrusted with much, let’s let it flow in channels that maximize those impacts to others.