Sunday Open Thread — October 21, 2007

Global Warming Patrick Chappatte
cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

What I’m Thinking of Writing (and Podcasting) About Soon:

Coping With the Strategy Paradox: I met recently with Michael Raynor, who wrote The Strategy Paradox. He’s now looking at what else we can do to deal with this paradox, and he poked some holes in my argument that what we need is resilience, not planning.

The Evolving Role of the Information Professional: Since I listed the five major ‘products’ of my new employer, some people have suggested that this list might define the new role of the information professional in all sorts of organizations.

Does How We Look Influence Who We Presume Ourselves to Be? We know people judge us by appearances. To what extent does the way we make ourselves appear affect our own sense of identity, our ability to be nobody-but-ourselves? If we looked and behaved exactly the way we wanted and felt, what would happen to us? Is our illusory ‘right’ to dress and appear the way we want to, part of the way society keeps us from being who we really are?

Why We Need a Public Persona: The journey to know yourself is the first step towards understanding how the world works and becoming truly yourself, which is necessary before you can make the world a little better. As de Mello said, this journey is mostly about getting rid of the everybody-else stuff that has become attached to us as part of our social conditioning, and getting rid of this stuff is perhaps what ee cummings meant when he said the hardest thing is to be nobody-but-yourself when the world is relentlessly trying to make you everybody-else. From birth, we pick up all this everybody-else stuff that clings to us and changes us, muddies us. We are rewarded by society for doing so. I find the ‘figments of reality’ thesis helpful in this hard work — realizing that our minds are nothing more than problem-detection systems evolved by the organs of our bodies for their purposes, not ‘ours’. That ‘we’ are, each ‘one’ of us, a collective, a complicity. What makes it so hard is that becoming nobody-but-yourself opens you up to accusations of being anti-social, weird, self-preoccupied, arrogant etc. So we end up, I think, having to adopt a public persona that is, to some extent, not genuine, not ‘us’ at all. That’s hard. How can we make this public persona as thin and transparent as possible? This might be a follow-up to the proposed article above.

The Water Crisis: The disappearance of fresh water is likely to be the first wave of the future cascading crises of global warming. Ironically, the second wave is likely to be floods.

Gangs and the Malleability of Human Ethics: Observers of the now decade-long intractable genocides and civil wars in Darfur, Somalia, Chad, Zaire and other African nations describe the same gang phenomena repeated endlessly: Men horrifically tortured and slaughtered, women systematically and repeatedly raped, children kidnapped and forced into slavery and military duty, animals and other resources stolen, and villages burned to the ground. What is it about human nature that so many can perpetrate such atrocities for so long without remorse?

Vignette #6

Blog-Hosted Conversation #2 & #3: Monday I’ll be publishing my narrated, edited interview of Jon Husband, which I recorded last week, on hierarchy, community and education, and later this week I’ll be recording podcast #3, on education and the media, with Rob Paterson..

Possible Open Thread Question:

If you (like me) believe that people are inherently loving, collaborative, peaceful creatures, how do you account for the enduring presence, influence and remorseless atrocities of gangs — militias, street gangs, crusaders, mobs etc?

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5 Responses to Sunday Open Thread — October 21, 2007

  1. LindaL says:

    I can’t help but ask — Why do you think people are “inherently loving, collaborative, peaceful creatures?” I have recently read “The Road” by Cormac Mccarthy. It is a parable about our world and the sinister direction in which we are headed. The book is not without hope — but the human condition that is portrayed is more typically filled with fear and distrust. In my view, people are only loving and peaceful when they do not feel threatened, and unfortunately, people are very easily threatened by things that are different or unfamiliar. Change inevitably breeds unfamiliar circumstances. Add to that the fact that some people are genuinely nasty or bent on attaining/retaining power. I have noone specific in mind, but I think it is not hard to find examples throughout history. What I am struck by is your conviction that we are peaceful and loving. It’s a nice idea, but, in my view, does not at all describe the human condition.

  2. etbnc says:

    Our story is not the whole story.Fortunately, LindaL, the human condition that we see now is not necessarily representative of our species’ entire history. In fact, I would say the cultural stories that we tend to dwell upon account for less than 5% of the lived experience of homo sapiens.Learning about the lives of indigenous people before they encountered our culture makes it easier to see the nicer side of ourselves. Dave’s reading list offers some sources that begin to dig into the other 95% of human stories:

  3. etbnc says:

    Lately I’ve been thinking about writing a blog essay that would compare our learned behavior patterns to our experiences installing new software on our computers. Humans are often described as a social species. It seems likely to me that a species that evolved to live successfully in social groups for hundreds of thousands of years probably also evolved a set of built-in behaviors to do so. It seems likely to me that we are born with an operating system that allows us to just get along. It seems likely to me that we’re born with an operating system that contains the basic behaviors we need to function as a social species.It’s hard for me to imagine how we could live for hundreds of thousands of years as “a social species” *without* that built-in behavioral operating system.Clearly, however, we humans are capable of running other software. We’ve figured out how to load new programs that override our social operating system. We install new software, and we behave differently. Sometimes we install different programs that give us contradictory results. Often our so-called upgrades contradict our built-in social operating system.Unfortunately it seems to me that we evaluate our brain software according to lots of criteria *except* the baseline human ability to get along in social groups. We’ve installed a number of violent programs, and we tell ourselves we like those programs because they’re flashy, colorful, loud, or trendy.It seems to me that if we place value upon our ability to function successfully in social groups, then we’re likely to rediscover the intrinsic value of our built-in operating system.Hmmm….maybe that’s a start on a rough draft. Cheers

  4. lugon says:

    Sometimes it’s the same software, with different input.There’s this prisioner dilemma situation [if both behave well, both win; both bad, both lose; one good and the other bad, the bad wins] but played a hundred times. Apparently, the winning strategy (validated against many other strategies) was “be generous the first time, then do onto others as they do onto you”.Things are a bit more complex because we can communicate, and because communication itself is sometimes used as a weapon (or as a cooperative weapon, if such a thing exists). Ever watched Big Brother reality shows? “I think you said what you said because you wanted her to believe you and I had been talking about him in a way that would turn them into friends against so and so.”

  5. LindaL says:

    etbnc — I think your estimate of the current negative cultural stories representing only about 5% of the human condition is way too optimistic — though it is a nice outlook to have. I think that people are easily influenced and many not capable of rational thinking — or not inclined to adhere to rational thinking even if capable. I have heard in documentaries people who have been involved in war (neighbor against neighbor) and in genocides. These are ordinary people who actively participated in killing people, sometimes people they had previously lived peacefully beside. Somehow circumstances came to control their thinking and they often cannot explain afterwards why they participated (“crazy times” pretty much sums up their grasp of the situtaion.) I think that in general we are governed by our reptilian brains: “Lacking language, its impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. It’s concerned with fundamental needs such as survival, physical maintenance, hoarding, dominance, preening and mating.” (More at: is one explanation — the other important factor being that people are easily influence and there are others who are skilled at manipulation. (e.g. Taliban training camps.)

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