Category Archives: Context

Synergizing Entrepreneurship and a Strong Commons

As a progressive, I continue to be frustrated with the ideological split in our country’s governing bodies that seems to be preventing them from addressing key issues that will help us move forward as a society. But as not a particularly partisan one, I always try to appreciate the positions and underlying world view of more conservative comrades on the other side of our current dysfunctional divide.

So trying to get beyond all this pitched political conflict that has lead to a paralysis of pragmatism (how Spiro Agnew, if you even remember that far back!), I am trying to synthesize something, using components from both sides, that could be a practical path forward. My thinking at the moment revolves around some sort of synergy of entrepreneurship with a strong “commons”. We can continue to be an innovative risk-taking society, but with an overarching belief, as Bill Clinton so eloquently pointed out in his Democratic convention speech, that we are all in this together, rather than “You’re on your own”. The latter I fear will lead to all sorts of bad stuff like competition within a world view of scarcity, economic winners and losers, one dollar (rather than one person) one vote, and increased “us and them” thinking. Continue reading →

A Blue-Collar Girl in a White-Collar World

I am republishing this piece written by my daughter Emma and originally published on Daily KOS (click here to see on Daily KOS). Also some extensive replies Emma made to some comments she got…

I am (and to some extent, have always been) a writer, but my desire to become a novelist did not emerge until after I’d made the choice to drop out of high school and become an “autodidact” (someone who is self-taught — see My Experience With Unschooling). All I knew then was that being in a traditional school setting made me terribly unhappy (for reasons that could fill a separate blog piece) and that I’d always had a knack for creative writing. I had no idea what was in store for me, venturing out into the wilderness, leaving everything I was expected to believe about school behind.

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To Build Community, an Economy of More Gifts and Less Money

For many years now I’ve been uncomfortable walking into a big crowded shopping mall and feeling the energy of the place. It generally feels like most people are there for entertainment, shopping for stuff they don’t really need. Four years ago I remember people joking about how it is very much a contemporary American cultural practice to “Shop ’til you drop” (STYD), but since the Great Recession, I rarely hear that any more.

Good riddance I think! The United States has had an economy that depended on ever increasing domestic consumer spending more so than any other major economy in the world. I’m no economist, but I suspect that one of the reasons our unemployment rate continues to be stubbornly high through our slow recovery is that many of the STYD folks have found it necessary to hang up their shopping bags and cut up their credit cards. Looks like the jobs that supported that superfluous hyper-materialism are just not coming back.

And reading the recent Yes! Magazine piece by Charles Eisenstein, “To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts”, I’m more convinced than ever its for the better. Eisenstein says we can trade that lost consumerism for community by returning to (or at least towards) a “gift economy”. He writes…

Wherever I go and ask people what is missing from their lives, the most common answer (if they are not impoverished or seriously ill) is “community.” What happened to community, and why don’t we have it any more? There are many reasons — the layout of suburbia, the disappearance of public space, the automobile and the television, the high mobility of people and jobs — and, if you trace the “whys” a few levels down, they all implicate the money system.

More directly posed: community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own. That is because community is woven from gifts, which is ultimately why poor people often have stronger communities than rich people. If you are financially independent, then you really don’t depend on your neighbors — or indeed on any specific person — for anything. You can just pay someone to do it, or pay someone else to do it.

Now neither Eisenstein nor I are saying to just sit back and enjoy getting poorer while the rich are getting richer. But tough economic times are as good as any to think about what is really of value in your life and spend your money more wisely on what really adds to that value. I think it’s really worth wrestling with his provocative thesis, that community is nearly impossible in a highly monetized society like our own.

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Lost in Transition

Ann Arbor's yearly street art fair
I returned to my hometown of Ann Arbor this past weekend to attend the wedding of the granddaughter of my mom’s dearest old friend and my own “feminist aunt” Mary Jane. It was also an occasion to reconnect with her four kids who had been like cousins to me, since Mary Jane and my mom had been as close as sisters. Though a wedding is generally about celebrating a beginning, a joining, I was dogged throughout the weekend by a sense of loss.

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Just Another Unschooling Story – No Big Deal

Made my day to get notification from a friend on Facebook that this piece appeared in this week’s Psychology Today magazine, giving credence to the life path for young people known as “unschooling”. It particularly resonated with me because our own kids are peers of the piece’s subject, Kate Fridkis – our son Eric is 26 and our daughter Emma is 22. One of the things it spoke to for me, was how kids who are not in school (while certainly not a privilege available to every kid) can more organically transition from youth to adulthood, including finding meaningful work to do with their lives. My daughter Emma was so inspired by the piece she posted a long comment on the Psychology Today blog and then I suggested she post it on DKos as her first diary. (Go chicgeek!)

The Psychology Today piece is, “Meet Kate Fridkis, Who Skipped K-12 and Is Neither Weird nor Homeless” by Peter Gray, who seems to have become a top-flight spokesperson (along with my friend Pat Farenga) for this “life path” for young people that does not involve routinely going to school. Here’s Gray’s short bio sketch on Fridkis, with the kicker in the last statement…

Kate Fridkis is 26 years old, is happily married, lives in New York City, has a master’s degree in religion from Columbia University, is a part-time chazzan (cantor) at a synagogue (a job she’s held since age 15), and is a full-time writer. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Salon. She’s working on getting her first novel published. She writes funny and insightful essays about body image on her popular blog, Eat the Damn Cake. And recently she has become a fellow blogger here at Psychology Today… Oh, and she also skipped all of school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

You can read the piece to get her whole story which seems remarkably unremarkable other than the fact that the only school she went to was college. But what struck me from the piece was an insight that unschooling may well make it easier for young people to transition from youth to adulthood in a much more gradual and natural manner, and at a pace and tempo that they have much more control of than someone who is “schooled”.

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Constructive Generational Conflict Between Boomers & Millennials

Following up on my last piece, “Shot Across my Boomer Bow”, and the provocative Esquire article “The War Against Youth” that inspired it, I am still (as a member of the Baby Boom generation myself) wrestling with what is the best path forward for us regarding these important generational issues. With any conflict that needs to be resolved and involves strong feelings and difficult issues, I believe we do best by focusing on “I” statements when we speak, but also try to listen to those statements from others thoughtfully, beyond ego, and try not to let our buttons get pushed (and at least acknowledge when they have been pushed).

Is there even a legitimate conflict that needs to be resolved? I think so, though a conflict short of Baby Boomers “eating their young” as the inflammatory rhetoric in the Esquire article stated. There are issues on the table in Congress about whether or not to have a two-tier solution for Social Security and Medicare that would leave benefits for existing beneficiaries (and possibly some or all Boomers) pretty much as is, while providing a less rich set of benefits for younger folks. Also, various educational subsidizes of particular importance to younger adults could be in danger of being cut to dial down government budgets.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how much can be done about the transition in the work world towards a global economy and the resulting impact on jobs and wages, plus the transition from traditional pension plans to individual retirement accounts and 401Ks. These seem like horses that left the barn decades ago, and we Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials are pretty equally impacted.

And finally, just the basic issue about who is going to be at the table making these decisions. Will Gen-Xers and Millennials be appropriately represented in terms of voice and vote? Obama is a Gen-Xer and there are others of that generation in Congress and state legislatures (though probably not yet reflective of their numbers). But who will speak and vote on behalf of our Millennial constituency? Back when we were all pretty confident that things would be improving for the younger generation, maybe having our young people at the table was not so critical. But now that the path forward is more problematic?

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Shot Across my Boomer Bow

I think there are way too few conversations going on between us Baby Boomers and our kids’ generation about our commonalities and areas of divergence and friction. Given that, when our young adult son Eric posted a link on Facebook the other day with the following intro…

Everyone should read (and share) this. Everyone.

Followed by posting a provocative quote from the linked piece…

“From every corner of the institutional spectrum, the whole of American society has been rearranged so that the limits of vision coincide exactly with the death of the Boomers.”

I took notice!

Eric, now 26, has emerged from his youth into adulthood as a thoughtful person not prone to hyperbole, and someone I (biased perhaps) would consider a thoughtful spokesperson for his circle of young adult peers and his “Millennial” generation.

Eric’s must read is a piece in the April 2012 edition of Esquire magazine, “The War Against Youth”, by 36-year-old Canadian Stephen Marche, who writes a monthly column for the magazine, “A Thousand Words about Our Culture”.

FYI… Per a short Wikipedia article on Marche, he was a finalist for the 2011 American Society of Magazine Editors award for columns and commentary. Also noted in that article, is that during a Canadian election campaign in October 2010, the Toronto Globe and Mail published online a commentary by Marche where he “effusively taunted a candidate for mayor of Toronto for the man’s obesity”. Assuming both these citations are true, Marche perhaps combines an incisive social criticism with a penchant for anger and at times hurtful words. But given Eric’s nod, I don’t necessarily want to judge the message by the messenger.

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Thoughts on Participatory Democracy

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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Seeking the Essence of Unitarian-Universalism

nullIn her blog piece “Love is More Important than Freedom”, Unitarian-Universalist minister Victoria Weinstein writes…

It has come time for Unitarian Universalists to admit that we have honored free thought over love as an institutional commitment, and to consider the possibility that our obsession with personal freedom of belief has caused our organizations spiritual harm. We have developed a congregational culture that honors intellectual dominance over love and tenderness. We are brilliantly conversant when voicing opinion, but do not know how to engage each other as vulnerable persons in need of hope, grace and healing, leaving it to the self-identified victims in our congregations to motivate and then control most discussion of what it means to love, to welcome and to accept.

There are probably less than 700,000 “UUs” in the United States today (I among them), and not much more than a million in the entire world, and the denomination has soul-searched over the last several decades to find the missing keys to significant growth. The denomination has particularly struggled to gain adherents beyond its white Anglo-Saxon Protestant roots into communities of color. UUism is often criticized as a religion of the head rather than the heart, and thus of limited appeal to most people.

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Adultism vs Legitimate Adult Stewardship of Youth

Following up on my pieces “Young People – The World’s Last Chattel?”, and “Looking at the Concept of Adultism”, I continue to try to wrestle with the “meta” level of adult-youth interactions and institutions that are the greater context beyond conventional inside-the-box thinking on “public education” and “parenting”. The question is, what represents a legitimate exercise of stewardship by adults of youth and what crosses the line into adultism, representing a corrupt exercise of adult privilege mis-justified as stewardship?

Time was that in many if not most cultures, women were essentially owned by their husbands and children were owned (particularly the female ones) by their fathers. Even today in some traditional cultures around the world the protocols of women and children as “chattel” still hold the force of tradition or even law. But for the most part human culture has transitioned away from the idea of adult ownership of children to something closer to the broader meaning of “stewardship”.

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