Sunday, November 22, 2015

Elusive Desert Moose and Other Lies


I went for a bike ride in Southern Albemarle County yesterday afternoon.  As I headed onto Old Lynchburg Road, the chill of the late fall air sent a shock through my lungs reminding me again that riding in Virginia in the Winter is as much a test of will as it is exercise.  Before long, legs and heart pumping, I thawed myself into a steady state that drove out the cold.  By the time I turned to head east on 708, I had long forgotten the cold and was relishing the fact that I was back on my bike after weeks of travel.  And then, after cresting the third long climb I saw them.  Two zebras and a mule standing in the middle of a field on the north side of the road.  Zebras!  In a region of the country where one expects to see ostentatious horse farms, manicured vineyards, and sweeping estates, zebras are certainly unexpected.  In an instant, I pulled off the road, hopped off my bike and walked over to the pasture fence to take a photo.  As I did that, I realized my motivation for the photo was an echo across over 40 years.

On one family trip across the desert Southwest in the early 1970s, my parents got a bag of M&Ms (still the official road trip snack of champions!).  The four of us boys were told that we would receive M&Ms for being the first to spot any wild animals during our drive.  Long before iPods, iPads, and all digital manners of diversion, a great idea was to get sons distracted by a little competition that would have them focusing out the window rather than on the fact that Dan liked the seatbelt too tight or that someone was in someone else’s space.  While on the road and at rest areas, various ones saw all manner of birds, reptiles and the occasional dog in another car.  For each first, M&Ms were dispensed.  The behaviorist B.F. Skinner would have been having a heyday with this Pavlovian environmental conditioning experiment.

Late into dusk, still suffering from my M&M deficient hypoglycemia, I announced that I saw a moose.  And before I could get through with the surprise sighting, I clarified that I had been certain it was a moose because I saw its ears!  I was told that I was “lying” and was not rewarded with M&Ms.  And so, yesterday, when I saw the zebras, the little boy in me wanted to be damn sure that I had a picture to prove that, indeed, I had seen the zebra.  What I didn’t know when I was 4 or 5 was that objective truth was not objective at all – it was consensus experience.  Sure, the objective fact was that I probably saw a misshapen saguaro cactus with wide sweeping arms and little flower bud nubs (filling in for ears on my moose).  But in the shadowy silhouette, the geometry was that of a moose standing in the night air of the Sonoran Desert. 

As I reflect on this lesson – “lying” about seeing what others didn’t see – I marveled at the hypocrisy of my “truth” conditioning.  Most impactful in my childhood were stories from the Bible, a daily companion to my upbringing.  As a boy who saw and heard things that others didn’t, I often marveled at how giants could exist, how bushes could talk, how dreams could fracture ribs, how fantastical miracles could be revered if they were told in a book that I was supposed to “believe” but the same dimensions were “lies” if they were experienced by a little boy.  And as I grew older, I was supposed to accept other consensus “truths” – faith, hope, love, justice, honesty – only to see in their consensus practice evident hypocrisy and contradiction.  The same boy who saw a moose was able to decipher covert operations by the U.S. government in Central America which later became known as the Iran Contra affair.  The same boy found and helped close the second largest white collar criminal tax fraud in U.S. history; developed a mechanism to render visible assets that were off balance sheet to stabilize and grow economies; went into conflict regions around the world where corrupt corporations were bribing governments to rob wealth from countries and their people and brought light and justice to places where no one else would go; and, continues to find the elusive desert moose that others don’t see.

I’ve watched over the years as those who have been the arbiters of public “truth” – the consensus keepers – have manipulated propaganda to hypnotize the population into being fearful of their own observations.  When governments manipulate and abuse their governed selling predatory intrusion and industrial warfare in the name of security; when churches and clergy demand their tithes but build their own wealth rather than feeding and clothing the needy; when families cling to the illusion of what loving relationships could be rather than acknowledging the pain of isolation in their midst; when disease management is sold as “healthcare”; and, when financial security is built on digital records that can be eradicated in a single magnetic burst, we’ve long abandoned integrity to our own observations and we’ve long left any realm of truth.  Over the past few weeks, while terror has marched across every media feed again, weapon makers have seen their fortunes soar (Defense Sector stocks up over 5.4% while the market has been up 0.47%).  The Brookings Institute along with many others have reported that those wonderful Toyota trucks driven by mercenary forces flying black flags are financed by oil sales (that’s right, someone is buying the oil) and “venture capital” style investments from Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. 

Purveyors of fear are most often the most vocal proclaimers of “truth”.  Why is that?  Well, for one, it’s terribly unacceptable to question “truth”.  In the past, it’s led to being outcast, stigmatized, or even killed – all significant aversion re-enforcements to insure consensus thinking and acting.  Additionally, as Gregory Bateson pointed out in his work on psychological disorders, if you can get someone to doubt their own observations of reality, you can rapidly convince them that they cannot trust themselves and therefore force them into situations where they “trust” others.  The more subtle the subterfuge, the more effective the coercion.  And behind every “truth” and “fear” purveyor stands someone who benefits.  Convince people they’re in danger – no worries, the government will keep you “safe”.  Convince people that they’re sinful – no worries, the church will take your time, focus, and money in exchange for an eternal peace.  Convince people that they’re incapable of understanding money – no worries, advisors will sell you no-downside guarantees in the form of pensions and insurance which “can never go down” never telling you what they do with the “ups” they make. 

I’m going through an amazing journey in life.  Each one of the consensus illusions in my world has been held up for examination in 2015.  And each one, on close examination have crumbled into bits.  Not a little bit – entirely!  And what I’ve chosen to do is find the motivation behind each – find out who was the beneficiary of my distraction – and elected to learn from these experiences rather than judge or despise them.  I’ve chosen to live in transparency – sharing what others would see as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without any sense of concern.  I’ve chosen to live in complete and emanating love – insuring that those who are in my life receive the best from me and that I receive the best from them.  I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to give no quarter to the illusion of fear in myself or others.  Why?  Because I’ve always seen a world that includes imagination, wonder, and conscious living.  I’ve always seen the elusive desert moose.  And I choose to live in a world where I’m measured by the quality of my actions, not by my resonance with consensus.  In so doing, I’m inverting alchemy – taking gold and turning it back into humanity.  I think I’ll have a few M&Ms now cuz there’s a Little Guy who just saw a zebra!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

South China Sea


Several years ago I was asked to offer my input to a scenario planning workshop for a large family office in the U.S.  During the presentation, I suggested that geopolitical risk had a few flashpoints that would be worth watching.  I referred to these as the “Archduke Ferdinand’s Bullet” referring to the assassination which certainly contributed to the violence that escalated into World War I.  The one that I said had the highest consequential risk was the shipping lines stretching from the Straits of Malacca to the South China Sea.  This region, unlike any other, is responsible for much of the energy and container traffic for the world’s largest trading partners.  An LNG tanker explosion, a “friendly fire” salvo gone wrong, and the Asia Pacific powder keg could ignite due to the absence of regional resilience. 

Several days ago, a U.S. naval vessel passed within 12 nautical miles of an innocuous island claimed by China and situated in the South China Sea.  To be sure, the U.S. Navy did NOT need to be there.  There’s a big ocean and passage into and through territorial distributes is not the exercise of a maritime right, it’s a provocation.  And with all of the conflicts raging across the world, a logical presumption would be that we might do well to minimize our willingness to inflame relatively pacified situations.  Do Vietnam, Japan and others have legitimate concerns regarding China’s interpretation of maps?  Quite possibly as maps are capricious in the first place and no entity has the universally recognized map of the world’s land masses and jurisdictional boundaries.  Which made me pause and ask the question:  given the abject stupidity of the Navy’s choice of passage, what else is going on for which this event would serve as a distraction? 

We have religious factions unraveling the delicate, war-torn communities of Afghanistan and Iraq.  We have massive food, water and conflict refugees desperately seeking respite from carnage in Syria.  We’re watching as Venezuela may be about to implode under that persistent economic challenges from the depressed petro-dollar based economy it’s built.  We know that the Arabian Peninsula is teetering on the brink of massive social inequality-fueled regime change – more French revolution than French enlightenment if you get my drift.  A few days ago, I had the good fortune of meeting with representatives of the government of Papua New Guinea and heard the futility in voices who have long sought just participation in the resource extraction from their country only to know that a select few officials are willfully or ignorantly mismanaging these assets.  Consumption is down in the minerals sector.  Companies are shifting headquarters to tax havens as they continue to extract infrastructure value from their actual home country.  We’re looking just over the horizon to Christmas season which will, in its muted performance, give us the opportunity to see exactly how bad consumer confidence is.

Dystopian trajectories are epidemic all around us.  The models of human interaction that have been deployed over the past 400 years have born their blighted fruit and, in the main, this is the generation shouldering the indictment on the Occidental epistemological order.  There are, in my estimation, several generalizable factors of the entropic conclusion of this human experiment. 

As I state in my documentary Future Dreaming, one of these is the concept of dominion.  The idea that anything or anyone is “over” anything or anyone else is a fallacy that results in immeasurable harm.  The religious narrative that places a god “over” the created order is palatable only in the corollary illusion that “man” is entitled to have dominion over everything else.  From divine rights justifying autocracies to our most intimate interactions between men and women in which “my” serves to reify linear possession, our behavior indicts our abject failure to see the natural order as absolutely interdependent and covalently linked in energetic exchange.  And the immoral justification of patronage in which benevolence to the “lower” absolves the “higher” of their tyranny is not appropriate even if the benevolence is absolute.  For in it, the perspective of one forms the context for the other and the “lord’s” context and motivation is opaque.

An additional systemic failure is enclosure.  From the Adamic myth of naming all the flora and fauna in Eden to property laws to accounting, the presumption that life requires boundaries is anathema to all natural systems.  In classic Nordic folklore, the Milky Way or Linnunrata (the light path) was thought to guide bird migrations to and from nesting grounds.  The birds were not thought to “own” the Milky Way but simply use it as their guide.  Edges, boundaries, enclosures and the like – whether defined by fiat or consensus – create separation and separation reinforces scarcity.  We can see this cancer throughout our entire social order.  “My” or “mine” not only implies ownership or dominion of or over a thing but it too has an ugly corollary – digital choice.  Choice is heralded as a valued human ideal but within it is, all too often, the implication of a rejection of the other.  From which laundry detergent to use to which restaurant to select to how to vote, our social behavior sees choice of one person or one thing as an explicit rejection of all others.  Without enclosure in the illusion of time or space, choice could be seen as temporal selection in a moment or for a utility where all other expression, options, or opportunities preserve all attributes of availability in all other moments.  But we don’t live that way.  By selecting a house or a job, we have cut off other options for shelter and purposeful action.  By selecting a relationship, we are thought to deprioritize all others.  In a world that celebrates “choice”, we force the illusion that one dimension of value leading to prioritization is somehow predominant over all other dimensions. 

And finally, digital.  I was fortunate to be invited to speak at the International Day Traders Association conference in Gold Coast Australia a week ago and return for a speaking engagement for the Big Blue Sky Event a few days later.  I was amazed at the ubiquitous intrusion of “digital” in much of the discourse.  Once again, we can barely detect this memetic absolute.  When we don’t like something, we “change” it.  But unfortunately, we don’t specify with any precision that which we find revolting and the attributes of what better would be.  Things are “right” or “wrong”, “functional” or “dysfunctional” but the use of digital thinking (like choice referenced above) means that we can only see momentary state conditions in a macro sense without discerning the subtle nuance that makes all things a composition of all phases and states in subtle variation.  I spoke about the reflexive acceptance and rejection of models of behavior and planning which fail to fully understand the illusions within the stories we are told and used examples like the Third Reich’s contribution to Silicon Valley and the Occupy Wall Street response to Chicago’s CDS trading market to show that digital and causal reflexive response is NOT thinking.  It’s reacting.  And reacting is seldom, if ever, fully conscious.

Overlay these epistemologies on the growing conflicts in the Middle East, South America and the Asia Pacific region and there’s no surprise that the South China Sea is boiling.  We are a common humanity not only divided by our language but equally incapable of integrating and evidencing our capacity to live in a heterogeneous, infinitely orthogonal perspective that is isomorphic with Reality.  And while we may feel incompetent to deal with the geopolitical audacities of systemic failures, we can, in these moments, treat each other with greater grace and mercy.  We can seek to understand rather than judge.  We can seek to inquire rather than project.  We can triangulate perspectives and, in so doing, achieve a more considered existence.  And if we begin that journey in our immediate fields, we can foster an expanding dynamic that, like the Sun, warms the field around us and gradually illumines a path to a more complete human experience.