Saturday, February 20, 2016

Blood at the Graves


In morality befitting the modern Islamic State extremists who have famously destroyed countless antiquities, St. Augustine encouraged Christians to destroy all symbols of ‘paganism’ with the exhortation “that all superstition of pagans and heathens should be annihilated is what God wants, God commands, God proclaims.”  Pope Gregory I was credited with the recommendation to “tear down temples and shrines from their foundations.”  And last week, a property developer in Albemarle County, less than one mile from my home, likely violated 25 U.S. Code 3001-3013 by bull-dozing and crushing giant quartz mounds which were reportedly the final resting place for First Peoples in what is now called Virginia.  In a few short months, half million dollar homes will sit atop the desecrated remains of those who were inhabitants of very different woodlands in very different times. 

I took scores of people to the mounds over the past 10 years.  Heads of State, scholars, seekers, friends, lovers all took solace in the sanctuary of the giant oak, maple and sycamore trees that were the cathedral befitting those great souls who danced in the light breezes.  Late in the night, the starlight piercing the frigid winter would glisten off the quartz as if to provide a homing beacon for the souls who were physically present and whose energy lingered.  Peace pipes, prayers, chants and cries all marked this precious spot on earth.  The timeless nature of all souls seemed, in a moment, to pause, intermingle and then move on as if to say that WE are all ONE – just inhabiting individual experiences of sense and place which are not ours but ours to share. 

The mounds are now gone.  As I left the spot, I was perplexed by how mindless and thoughtless one can be when operating a giant Caterpillar earth mover.  Did the hollow sound of crushing crystal boulders reverberate in any part of consciousness or was the stereo in the cab on loud enough to deaden the consciousness that has been seared by a few pieces of silver?  Which led me to the deeper question: can one desecrate or defile in the physical realm if one is devoid of a sense of the sacred?  Can one reverence or ignore what exists beyond the edge of the capacity to comprehend? 

As my thorn-torn hands offered blood to the ground that had been ripped open, I reflected on how many places, social institutions, consensus beliefs and other human actions are defiled and desecrated in the minds of one or many only to be seen as land befitting development by another.  I know that in my life, I’ve held many things sacred and have stood aghast at the way in which what I valued most evoked indifference or neglect in others.  What I thought were some of my most precious attributes were deemed to be utilitarian expectations by others.  “Of course Dave does…,” this or that was the justification for many moments of deferred or neglected gratitude for true effort.  And I am not alone.  I know many healers, carers, stewards, and the like who have become so much an accepted utility as to make them devoid of human interactions in the common realm.  Because they don’t articulate their “need”, the logic goes, they must not “need” gratitude, love, care, compassion, companionship, etc.  The more one evidences the capacity to “give” or offer service, the less others anticipate the genuine longings of the offeror. 

One of the buried chiefs reportedly visited a dear friend of mine.  He was buried under one of the mounds that had blood red quartz on it and was covered in beautiful moss.  He asked the friend to tell me to make sure that I protect the water here because one day that would be important.  I remember that night and that dream.  The night was filled with lightning and the ponds swelled to overflowing in the morning.  On other occasions, other friends told me of visits from the spirits that were represented in the graves.  All of them told me of instructions for me to protect the environment and care for others.  I don’t need an explanation for this phenomenon other than to say, on this day when their quartz markers have been desecrated and crushed, I will remember.  And I will still walk in the woods listening for the quiet prayers that seek for kindness, stewardship, and love.  You are not forgotten.  While your physical markers have been erased, your spirit lives in the memories of people from many lands and many nations who once stood in your land and drank from its goodness!


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Losing Your Head Over Love


One thousand seven hundred and forty-seven years ago today, a man was beaten with clubs and then beheaded under the order of Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius Augustus.  Known by his buddies as Claude and known by his deific title (yes, he was a god according to the Roman Senate) as Divus Claudius Gothicus, Claudius II was an epic military leader bent on restoring greatness to the Roman empire as it was coming apart at the seams.  And, in the proud tradition of the apocryphal “divine” lineage, Claudius II is allegedly an ancestor to Constantine, the emperor who, a short 34 years after the martyrdom of St. Valentine issued the Edict of Milan in which the Roman Empire officially professed Christianity.  When you’re sniffing your roses and eating your chocolates, ponder the paradox that you’re celebrating a clubbing and beheading of a proselytizing man who had the audacity to challenge the deification of military emperors.

The National Retail Federation estimates that, in the U.S., consumers will spend $19.7 billion this year on Valentine’s Day blasting through the previous all-time record of $18.6 billion spent in 2013.  And, following the Pavlovian impulse of mercantile behavior, our collective caring impulse will enrich candy makers, greeting card publishers, restaurants and venues, florists, and jewelers.  These, in order of gross consumer percentages, will be the winners of what society has deemed to be “love” in modern times.  When one contemplates our iconography of “love” one can readily see a social commentary on the state of humanity that could benefit from a little socioeconomic historical review.

While most of the historical record of the Bishop of Terni, Narnia and Amelia was destroyed in the flames of book-burning impulses throughout the tumultuous demise of the Roman Empire, tradition states that St. Valentine was under house arrest ordered by Judge Asterius.  During his impassioned conversations with the judge, the humble bishop reportedly laid his hands on the eyes of the judge’s blind daughter and miraculously restored her sight as proof of the power of Jesus.  This miracle reportedly led to the conversion of the 44 members of the judge’s household to Christianity and the emancipation of Christian prisoners in the region.  Emboldened by the conversion and – more importantly – the judge’s decision to smash all of his idols deemed a pagan affront to Christianity, the Bishop went on to Rome where he conducted Christian marriages in violation of Roman law.  His actions were deemed treasonous by Claudius II and, after a failed attempt to convert the emperor, he was sentenced to death and executed.  Claudius II wanted people to have faith in him and, failing that, he wanted to kill his opponents.  St. Valentine wanted people to have faith in his belief.  A few decades after his death, his prevailing view justified the killing of those who didn’t believe.  In short, St. Valentine, Claudius II, and Constantine were co-conspirators in one of the most ruthless genocides of all time – all pivoting around the perversion of a very simple principle: love!

Anyone astutely watching politics in the U.S. right now can see the theater at the end of an empire.  We’re bombarded with the subterfuge and lies of a former First Lady and Secretary of State who, together with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, know that they’re all co-conspirators on actions in North Africa and other parts of the world which were corrupt and antithetical to principles of transparent democracy; the brash xenophobia of a bloated icon of the worst of horded capital; the pandering proselytizing populists; and all other manner of superficiality and rather than allow this theater to indict our sense of callous neglect for the Unity of all peoples across the world, we turn to chocolates, greeting cards and faux tokens of “love” while we do nothing to evidence that love. 

Ironic, isn’t it, that the two biggest commercial successes of the Valentine’s Day economics are two industries that are rife with inhumanity.  The extractive industries that provide the glitter of jewelry have, over the centuries, involved warfare, genocide, torture, organized crime, yet we continue to return each year to them as icons of love.  The cocoa industry – 70% of which is supplied from Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana – is so filled with labor abuses that a 2004 effort to expose the human rights violations in Cote D’Ivoire resulted in the state-implicated kidnapping, torture and murder of a journalist seeking to report on the conditions of workers in the cocoa farms of Western Africa.  To insure that buyers can cheaply show their love for their sweethearts, the average cocoa farmer earns less than $2 per day.  Sixty percent of Americans will spend 80 times that amount in this one day to show “love”.

This post is not an anti-love screed.  This is not a plea to shun celebrations.  It is, in the tradition of Future Dreaming, a call for us to consider the all-in-consequence of our chosen actions.  In fact, I would like us to consider what WOULD be a celebration befitting the namesake of this holiday.  While the Catholic Church demoted St. Valentine in 1969 and while I’m not, nor have I ever been, a fan of making martyrs out of those who try to argue for “belief” rather than simply living evidence of a better way of living, I would like to consider what a day of celebrating love would actually look like. 

So what I’m doing to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day is simple.  I’m corresponding with those I love and letting them know how much they mean to me.  I’m redoubling my commitment to my work with people like Lawrence Daveona and Theresa Arek who represent some of my closest connections to the extractive and the cocoa production industries and, rather than buying gifts of fleeting value, I’m allocating my time and treasure to see them succeed in their efforts to bring humanity to industries that have historically abused humans to the point of death.  And I am, for the first time in 30 years, choosing to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a light heart because I have now seen that love can actually emanate not from a cognitive agreement in my head but can be an effusive expression of my interconnectedness with ALL.  Here’s to all you lovers out there!  Celebrate unbounded, relentless, integrated love!


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Let Them Die and Decrease the Surplus Population


"At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, ... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons..."
"And the Union workhouses." demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"Both very busy, sir..."
"Those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

This chilling recommendation by Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is spoken of the “poor” in his encounter with the gentlemen from the charitable society.  While it sounds like the ravings of a pure sociopath in the 21st century, we miss the depth of commentary that would have attended audiences of the cognoscenti of the late 18th and early 19th century.  Then, the proper noun “surplus population” would have been known to mean those unemployed and under-employed who serve no purpose to the rent-based labor model of capitalism.  They were, in the minds of 18th century economists, better off dead than being a drain on mercantile profits.  This is because they added nothing in terms of marginal rents to be exploited for labor advantage and they did were non-responsive to price manipulations.  They were not just the “unaccounted for” – they were useless.  Ironically, the urban and rural poor of the 18th century were less valuable than slaves as they couldn’t even be commodified into chattel trade!

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. issued a recent note calling into question the efficacy of capitalism.  “We are always wary of guiding for mean reversion.  But, if we are wrong and high margins manage to endure for the next few years (particularly when global demand growth is below trend), there are broader questions to be asked about the efficacy of capitalism,” stated Goldman’s Sumana Manohar and her colleagues.  For the new players not familiar with the statistical principle of “mean reversion”, it’s most easily understood to refer to phenomenon that take on cyclical oscillations where period of high prices, for example, ultimately re-equilibrate with competition or increased supply thereby approaching commodity marginal value.  But in their analysis, Goldman accidentally indicts the already failed modern capitalist model by citing, as reasons for high profit margins, “strong commodity prices” (read – exploitation of impoverished and disenfranchised labor and resource regions where willful neglect of quality of life and land lead to extractive bonanzas), “emerging market cost arbitrage” (read – exploitation of poorly compensated labor), and other variables.  In short, the 18th century mandate that modern capitalism be predicated on imperialistic land and inhabitant exploitation is actually getting worse and incumbent businesses are the ones who, through bribery, corruption, incumbency paralysis, and patronage hold the only advantage to pressure “emerging market” countries’ leadership into allowing reckless endangerment of their land and citizens.  Goldman would be ideally suited to know about this given the extensive role they play in financing what Joseph Schumpeter predicted as the end of capitalism.  Schumpeter recognized that, drunk on power, influence derived from the control of capital and surplus profits, companies would take on corporatism where their own existence would be more important than the markets they once served.  “Entrepreneurship” and “innovation” in his forecast, would merely serve to create acquisition efficiencies for corporations and would not challenge incumbent products or services. 

Over the past several years, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in what is heralded as “innovation” – once the fulcrum required to tip the profit margin lever in the capitalist model.  In “Silicon” this and “Entrepreneurship” that, there’s been an increasing push towards incremental improvements to incumbent platforms.  We don’t come up with a new way to communicate, we come up with an app that renders an incumbent device more incumbent.  We don’t come up with a new enterprise model, we crowd-fund and crowd-source our way to market tests to offer shrewd companies insights into where the market is susceptible to “new”.  In homage to Frank Robinson, angel investors and venture capitalists fawn all over “minimum viable product” efforts while incumbency-threatening transformation is suffocated.  For Adam Smith’s corrupt system to work, it required capitalists who would take gambles on transformation where price or supply dislocation was possible. During the last 15 years, this impulse has been extinguished and corporatism has fully replaced capitalism in every quarter.

And embedded in the virus that was unleashed when mercantilism ceded its hold to capitalism was the toxin of necessary neglect.  By assiduously avoiding contact with the land and people which were the “efficiencies” derived from colonial and militant oppression and extraction, the general public could comfortably clothe, feed and amuse themselves without ever seeing the cost of contaminated water, inhumane treatment of workers, decimation of culture and community, and extinction of resources, flora and fauna.  In other words, for the capitalist system to work, moral opacity was necessary.  Not surprisingly, the observational retrospective piece by Goldman presumes that corporate profits are essentially valuable.  But this two and a half century assumption has not been sufficiently examined. 

Under capitalist dogma, profit is the arbitrage between the “cost” of production and distribution and the “price” that a consumer is willing to pay.  It is the seduction premium that is foisted upon a public willing to acquiesce to manipulated supply, frail egoic identification, or perceived need.  As the consumer is seduced into their portion of the calculus, so too is the enterprise willing to bankrupt its own sense of accountability or responsibility by intermediating those attributes of business most odious.  Celebrate the environmentally friendly electric vehicle so long as you don’t pay any attention to the lithium miners’ plight.  Carbon obsess your way into wind turbines so long as you don’t see the rainforests of Papua New Guinea that are clear cut for the toxic balsa timber.  Celebrate – with Goldman – the collapse of commodity prices while paying no heed to the environmental and social cost of extractive industries becoming more callous in their pursuit of metals and energy in more remote and unverifiable locations.  The less you measure the extinction costs which are “free” in the capitalist model – that matter, energy and effort that can be used and abused to extinguishment without any model for replenishment or reuse – the more “profit” seems to manifest.  Profit is the inverse economic function to all-in-consequence value recognition.  This is NOT an anti-enterprise statement.  Genuine innovation, genuine quality, genuine purpose-filled products and experiences can justify a PREMIUM which, unlike “profit” is the value acknowledgement willingly bestowed on enterprises who manifest value in line with socially desired outcomes.  And premium can exist on both sides of the antiquated business model.  As a supplier, I may offer goods or services to partners at an advantaged price because I prefer my affiliation with them.  As the distributor of goods and services, my transparency and honorable actions may engender greater reward and recognition than my thoughtless, mercenary alternative. 

And lest one misunderstand this commentary to solely apply to business and industry, allow me to bridge the following important social observation.  Many deeply personal and intimate relationships suffer from the same negligent accountability capitalist curse.  Profit in friendship, relationship, and intimacy can be often a seductive trap where one party seeks to benefit at the expense of the unacknowledged well-being of another.  The resulting imbalance can, like imperialistic business, lead to subtle and overt exploitation, resentment and ultimate extinction of relationships.  Unseen and unaccounted contributions by one party can render gifts of generosity, kindness and service which in their offering are freely and joyfully given and manipulate them into entitlement and expectation.  What once was generative and offered in love becomes resented and provided in dutiful drudgery.

Unlike Goldman Sachs’ recent note, I would argue that the capitalist ideal likely never got a chance to breathe.  The experiment largely born in the industrial age in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany was immediately co-opted by militarism and state-sanctioned privatization of Federal Treasuries (not surprisingly necessitated in each instance by sovereign debt resulting from expeditionary military exercises).  Apologists for capitalism fail to evidence its capacity to function without tyrannical extraction from colonial theft of lands and peoples thought to be too remote to matter.  Since the early 1800s, they’ve assiduously avoided accounting for extinction and waste of materials, community, culture, and energy.  And they’ve entirely neglected the damning evidence that the vast majority of genuine, transformational innovation has been stifled or extinguished by incumbencies that control capital, means of production and distribution, and governmental patronage.  In other words, irrational profit margins are not the harbinger of capitalism’s failure – they’re merely the forensic evidence of rigor mortis in the unborn fetus of imperial hegemonic delusions. 

When we account for it “all”, we’ll be able to discuss the persistent, generative, infinitely orthogonal cyclical efficiency of systems which are devoid of extinction, oppression and callous neglect for each actor in the ecosystem.  We will celebrate with premiums those actors and enterprises that model the most salutatory of ethical values rather than reward with indifference those who maximize seduction while preserving moral opacity and negligence.