Lefty Parent

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Circle of equals

Posts Tagged ‘history’

Civilization 2.0 – The Facilitation Edition

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Version 2For five-thousand years human civilization has been about a small privileged elite mostly directing the activity of the rest of us. The bankruptcy of this approach to human society, if not evident previously, became brutally so in the 20th Century when some of the most “advanced” countries on Earth sent millions of their young people to slaughter each other for national pride and systematically exterminated millions of other people simply attempting to live their lives in peace.

Better late than never, there is a more egalitarian approach to human civilization that we have to date only seen small glimpses of. In the vision of great thinkers like Isaiah, Laozi, Gautama Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Michael Servetus, Mikhail Bakunin, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Emma Goldman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Aung San Suu Kyi. In the consensus governance practices of the Quakers and the Iroquois. In the egalitarian societies of Scandinavia and the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Some of the key principles of this revised approach to civilization beyond control and conformity include…

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Thoughts on Civilization & Privilege

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

GotPrivFor nearly 200,000 years our human species (homo sapiens) lived on this bountiful planet in what most anthropologists now believe were mostly small egalitarian bands or tribes of hunter-gatherers, less than a million people scattered about Earth’s various habitable environs living for the most part peacefully with each other and within the larger web of nature. Each autonomous group might be as few as 10 to as many as 100 people generally woven together by a web of kinship with a basic equality among members including between men and women. It is generally believed today that all told, these people lived good lives in harmony with nature and were anything but the conventional pejorative notion of “savages”.

Unlike the tribal “chiefs” we are familiar with in contemporary indigenous societies, most bands of hunter-gatherers are believed to have operated without permanent leaders, with various community members taking initiative based on their expertise in the particular task being performed. Think more the informal organization of a contemporary large extended family or a group of people on a field or camping trip rather than a highly stratified hierarchy of decision making. The fact that this organization of our species evolved naturally and continued for nearly 200,000 years mostly unchanged speaks to its efficacy and compatibility with innate human nature.

What I’m really wrestling with these days is the most recent 5000 to 10,000 years of our history, specifically our experiment with “civilization”, which seems to have been quite a mixed bag. In an effort to see what lies beyond and maybe even evolve beyond our nature, we created complex human societies where we all participate (some willingly but many coerced) as a sort of super-organism that has been able to explore and take control of virtually all of our planet’s territory and natural resources, compile an edifice of knowledge now almost universally available through the Internet, and take at least the first baby steps to explore beyond the friendly confines of our planet. A super-organism mimicking a purely biological organism which has a certain small portion of that organism dedicated to its control and executive function.

At its best this experiment with civilization has created a world that currently allows seven billion unique souls to inhabit it at the same time, share an incarnation on a beautiful planet, and share ever more connectedness with (through diminishing degrees of separation from) each other.

But the downside is that we have created complex societies and institutions within those societies which as designed require a controlling elite executing that executive function in a way that generally favors that subset of people at the expense of the rest of us participating in the super-organism. This privilege of a controlling elite may or may not have been an aspect of previous human hunter-gatherer societies, but it continues to be a foundational cog of our “civilization” approach to human society.

What’s a species to do?

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Is the World Ready for a God-Embracing Atheist?

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Many ReligionsThey teach you that when in a job interview if asked whether you have a particular skill or experience and you must honestly say no, it is best to say “no but…” followed by sharing some other skill or experience you do or have had that is arguably comparable or at least applicable.  For example, “No, I don’t have experience as a manager, but I do have a great deal of experience chairing committees in my congregation and leading volunteers.”

I think that rule of thumb is applicable for any advocacy, even beyond advocating for one’s own employment.  So when asked, “Do you believe in God?”, nowadays I am inclined to say “No, but…I appreciate the idea that there is a deeper level of connection between all of us and have my own metaphor for that connection.”

If the person asking believed in God they might not buy my answer.  There take may be that either you believe there is a deity or you don’t (or maybe you’re not sure). Isn’t this an unbridgeable chasm between the worldviews of the atheist and the “believer” (theist)? How can there be any common ground here?

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From Civilization to a Circle of Equals

Friday, February 8th, 2013

LeviathanWhat follows is an outline of a book I intend to write and get published (even if self-published) in the next few years, based on a lot of the reading, thinking and writing I have done to date. The bulk of the links you find in the overview are to pieces I have previously written that I will attempt to weave in.

My working title at this point is “From Civilization to a Circle of Equals”, because I have come to see civilization, as human beings have mostly developed it so far, as an exercise in domination and control of the bulk of human beings by a vested elite. As we truly embrace the “circle of equals” in our society, we will see such a transformation as to perhaps move beyond any current concept of “civilization” as we know it.

Given that disclaimer, if you are interested in my thoughts on the grand narrative of our species, please keep reading, and please (please, please) comment with your thoughts! (It will also be posted on my site as a “page” called out in the right column!

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Constantine’s Sword: It’s the Patriarchy Stupid!

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

I recently finished reading the book Constantine’s Sword – The Church and the Jews, laying out the historical account of Christian antisemitism and how that seeded a ground of separation and hate that made the Holocaust possible, if not inevitable. The author, James Carroll, is a liberal Catholic theologian who feels that his Church has to fully acknowledge its culpability and atone for its sins for the institution to continue as a vibrant faith community into the 21st century. With a good narrative style that weaves together the key events in history along with his own life’s story visiting the sites of much of that history, Carroll makes a compelling case for his religion to transform itself, simply stated, from an authoritarian to a more egalitarian institution. Some scholarly critics ding his book for relying on mostly secondary sources, sources that perhaps spin the history which Carroll then spins ever further, but his interpretation of that history certainly feeds in with my own.

His book nicely ties in with my own study of history and human civilization’s gradual transition from hierarchies of control (empires, slavery, monarchies, feudalism, etc) toward circles of equals (republics, democracy, universal human rights, etc). But in particular, it reinforces my contention, laid out in a previous piece, that religious belief and practice is not the source of hatred, violence and war, but religion as an institution has been hijacked by an older more sinister dogma of patriarchy, that torques it into an instrument of domination and control, leading to that hatred, violence and war.

I am neither Jew nor Christian, nor believer in any deity. But as a student of history and the continuing story of human development, one cannot fully understand that history and that story without factoring in spiritual beliefs and practices, and the institutionalized religions that grow out of them. And particularly for those of us who champion the cause of progressivism, democracy, pluralism and the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, I think it is critical to realize what we are really fighting against. Not people’s attempts to find a deeper spiritual meaning in their lives through religious practice, but instead an ancient paternalistic order, perpetuated through the millennia, that promotes a world view of fear, scarcity and “us and them” thinking that invariably leads to hate, violence and coercive control.

Please note, that like the author Carroll, it is not my goal to dis the Catholic Church or its hierarchy as some sort of conspiracy theory bogeyman for all the ills of society, though I’m concerned some may take my piece that way. But the authority wielded by a Church hierarchy as witnessed and documented by Carroll that has maintained itself consistently over 1500 years is a notable instance of a “successful” patriarchal institution that continues to perpetuate itself from generation to generation. There are many other ways that the patriarchal “who’s your daddy?” world view propagates itself, but this perhaps is an instance that is most straightforward and easily recognized.

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The American Three-Tiered Education System

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Three School TiersAccording to former public school teacher turned radical unschooler John Taylor Gatto, we have developed a de facto three-tiered education system in the United States as follows…

Tier One – The elite private schools for the kids of our economic elite (the so called “One Percent”), where they have the opportunity to develop skills of leadership, entrepreneurship, and creative outside-the-box thinking and develop the necessary connections to people in power to become the next generation of corporate and political leaders.

Tier Two – The “good” public schools (and comparable religious and secular private schools) that train the kids of middle-class families to become part of the what Gatto calls the “professional proletariat” – the doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, and other “knowledge workers” – that staff the corporate enterprises financed, launched and led by the kids from the tier one schools.

Tier Three – The “bad” or “failed” public schools for the economically disadvantage communities, which according to Gatto and other radical education activists are designed to “fail” and maintain an underclass of “them” to anchor the hierarchical pyramid of a country that continues to be comfortable with being economically stratified. These schools basically warehouse the kids of the poorest among us who, if they can find jobs at all, are hopefully grateful to take the service and other menial jobs along with filling the ranks of our large volunteer military.

To be perfectly and uncomfortably honest, my own continuing analysis of American society is moving me towards agreeing with Gatto on the above. This is not a matter of just failing to apply the needed money and effort to “fix” the “bad” schools, but more of an underlying problem, endemic when any elite conceives of a new societal institution as a tool for normalizing their privilege and control. I am concerned that our public school system, as originally envisioned by Horace Mann and other reformers suffers from this endemic problem and may be unredeemable unless completely transformed. Transformed to the extent that the states are no longer controlling the public education process, and schools are created and run by teachers, parents get to decide whether to send their kids to school, and young people are in charge of directing their own education.

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Horace Mann & Compulsory Schooling

Friday, May 25th, 2012

I have continued to ponder why school for kids continues to be compulsory (with the requisite coercion) while most everything else we do in America (except perhaps pay taxes) is by our own choice and direction. In trying to get a handle on the answer to a fundamental societal question like that, I tend to start with looking at our history and the flow of events that have led us to our present situation.

Being a kid who grew up in the 1960s, I can’t help but recall The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show and its Peabody’s Improbable History segment featuring the dog historian Mr. Peabody. I imagine erudite canine saying to his “boy” Sherman, “Let’s set the Wayback machine to Massachusetts in the year 1830 when Horace Mann led the effort to launch the U.S. public school system!” Lacking access to a “Wayback” machine to see for myself, I have to rely on the books I’ve read on the seminal events of this period in American history and particularly the words and deeds of Mann, the most famous champion of this effort.

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Thoughts on Participatory Democracy

Friday, February 24th, 2012

In my opinion, there is no more thoughtful and well-written person out there contributing to the discussion about the continuing development of American society than my friend and activist for education alternatives, Ron Miller. His recent piece, “Toward Participatory Democracy”, published in Education Revolution, eloquently elaborates on an activist thread in American history that motivates my own cheerleading for a more egalitarian world.

Ron has done his research and connected a lot of dots in American history from Colonial times through the Industrial Age, 20th century “progressivism”, radicalism of the 1960s, and the political-corporatism of our current situation. Looking at the big picture, Ron writes…

There has always been a struggle in American history between democracy and elitism, and despite the cherished memory of Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln, this nation has never fully trusted “the people” to govern themselves. Sometimes this mistrust reflects sophisticated political reasoning, in the tradition of Plato and the British conservative Edmund Burke, asserting that governance is a complex and delicate art best practiced by those who are specially educated or fit for it, or by those who claim to have a greater stake in the outcome.

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Moving Towards a World with No Bosses

Friday, December 30th, 2011

I keep attempting to bear witness to and advocate for our society’s continuing transformation from “hierarchies of control to circles of equals”, but I got feedback from my partner Sally on our morning walk today that that is too academic of a framing… Damn! So how can I call this out in a more clear, un-geeky, and compelling way? What captures the essence of (along with the argument for) this transformation? I thought about it, feeling some frustration that I was not yet effective in really communicating what I’m trying to say.

So I suggested a new framing that my comrade thought might be more compelling. In the simplest and broadest sense of it, isn’t it about moving towards a “world without bosses”?

The word “boss” is such a loaded one in our culture, evoking (at least in my mind) an old-school sense of a person who gives you orders, monitors your conduct, and does a high-stakes evaluation of your performance in your work. Someone who is higher than you on the org chart that you may strive to replace or just to mollify. Someone who “bosses you around”, which from my sense of that usage, is never intended to mean something positive. As a parent, I still have in my mind one kid challenging another kid’s bullying by saying, “You’re not the boss of me!”

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My Real Issue is Human Development

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Human DevelopmentI write from the point of view of a parent, a “lefty parent” as I call myself, which is intended to have a double meaning of sorts. I grew up in the context and values of a liberal Midwestern university town (Ann Arbor MI), but also being left-handed, I tend to think outside the box of a mostly right-handed world, including the liberal or progressive “left” conventional wisdom of that world. My mom and dad were more left-libertarians than actual liberals and I have come to find that I share that subtle but significantly different orientation.

I really feel more like an ex-parent now, because our kids are grown up (now 22 and 25) and they have been basically running their own lives (for at least the past four years) since they learned to drive and figured out how to make their own living. That said we are still a close family, and their mom and I love seeing them whenever they are available and sharing our now mostly separate lives. We are proud of them and they reciprocate by acknowledging the positive role we have played in their lives, but otherwise the relationships between us look more like peers (though from different generations) than mentors and mentored.

Today at age 56, I have now had a full quarter century of both the perspective of growing up while being parented, and the flip side of being a parent myself (maybe now more ex-parent) and watching our two kids through their own growing up process. And you can squeeze about eight years in the middle there when I was a young adult pretty much on my own, neither parented or parent. All three periods have had their ups and downs, successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies, the whole range. But all in all, things have worked out for the better and I count my blessings (including my own health and my partner’s, plus our two kids surviving their youth and now fully functional as adults).

All that life experience, combined with a midlife crisis of sorts, inspired me to start writing this blog, and as of November 25 it will be three years since I posted my first piece, “Welcome to Lefty Parent”. Looking at the over 300 pieces I’ve written and posted since then, though many of them are about education and schooling, there are really two other more fundamental topics that are of the most interest to me. The first is human development in all its aspects. The second is what I have come to see as a key part of that development, which is the historical transition of human society, at least in the most recent 5000 years of history, from hierarchies of control to circles of equals.

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