September 10, 2006
Dialogue is a life or death issue
Dick Polman (with whom I disagree politically) remarks on the increasing difficulty of people who disagree to engage in any sort of dialogue:
As I survey the political landscape, in the midst of a career change, it's clear we have entered an era in which nuance seems quaint. "Blue state facts" clash with "red state facts."For many who fit into the politically homeless camp, the center cannot hold because there is no center. Libertarians like me are quite used to agreeing with neither "side" and not being anywhere near any identifiable center. I honestly can't tell you what the center is, as there are too many passionately held ideological viewpoints which get in the way by condemning any deviation as the "other side." Which means that if you think for yourself, you can end up being on the other side of someone's other side on every issue on which there is a side. (Such a status may be many things, but it certainly cannot be called a "center.")
Polman offers a slim ray of hope:
Today strong partisans lead each party; goaded by bloggers, they often view compromise as surrender.I'll leave alone the "goaded by bloggers" part, as I can't remember the last time I goaded anyone. As to civil war, though, I can't remember how many times I've said that I don't want another one. I'd do almost anything to prevent such a thing. Is being against a new civil war now centrism? If so, then call me a centrist.
I find it ironic that the attacks of September 11, while initially triggering a sort of consensus resembling national unity, ultimately soured the national mood into the most bitter and recriminatory one I've seen and I'm including the Vietnam War era, for there was more national unity then, as well as more dialogue. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, were more capable of being friends then than they are now, and I think that's a crying shame. (I'll never forget how quickly I lost friends for developing new ones on the wrong "side," but that's another topic, and a very sore and sensitive one.)
The problem I have engaging in dialogue begins with an inability to define what is being discussed. When ordinary words like "family" and "consumer" become hyperpolitical code language, when words like "environment" make no sense, I don't know how to begin to have dialogue.
Yesterday I learned a new phrase: "living economies." The people talking about it were all in favor of it, but the way they were using it made my antennae go up, because it sounded like vague code language with a special meaning for activists, and probably some sort of an agenda. Like "family values." Or "reality based community." Otherwise inoffensive words strung together. But just try to define them using a dictionary! Such phrases are more than words. They are expressions, and they denote entire philosophies. Movements.
And, boy, the phrase "living economies" did not disappoint. As code language goes, it's a real gold mine. Books have been written on the subject and of course there are innumerable web sites devoted to it.
The crux of "living economies" (the plural of economy is no accident) is that the world is being dominated by "The Empire" which consists not of economies, but of "The Suicide Economy." This is run by large global multinational corporations which place profit ahead of humanity. The reason it is called a Suicide Economy is that it is "unsustainable." "Living economies" by contrast, are "sustainable."
If you like activist phraseology and code language, you need look no further than the term "living economies." These two simple words have been transformed into a veritable hive of rhetorical activism -- the inside of which literally teems with slogans like the following:
The Local Living Economies Movement is about:The purpose of this post is not to debate or fisk the above, but to demonstrate the difficulty of dialogue.
If I'm leaving Starbucks with a cup of coffee and someone says "Our bucks, not Starbucks," where would I even begin?
Creativity, not conformity? How do I know what those are? Am I being creative if I write a blog post when I'd rather lay back and contemplate a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Or am I being conformist? Or am I conforming to the dictates of my inner creativity? How the hell should I know?
I'm not in a foul mood right now, but sometimes I get in foul moods, precisely because I find it irritating to be scolded, lectured, badgered, by people who don't seem to understand the implications of their own demands. I can think of few things more degrading than being scolded for non-creative "conformity" by someone whose rote use of an unoriginal phrase scripted by someone else implies, well, non-creative conformity!
I mean, really! What could be less creative than condemning "conformity" and pronouncing yourself "creative" based on a slogan written by someone else? Were I in a foul mood, hearing such a thing might make me very proud to call myself a conformist! But how do I get to conformity in its fullest sense if I detest following others? It's a daunting task. And how can I conform without following? Create what? Conform to what? Maybe I should always place "brands and market-share" ahead of "consciousness and creativity"?
Unbeknownst to me when I started this essay, I have been misusing the word "creative." In the context of the Living Economies people, it means belong to a group called "cultural creatives," which has its own philosophy:
The Cultural Creatives care deeply about ecology and saving the planet, about relationships, peace, social justice, and about self actualization, spirituality and self-expression. Surprisingly, they are both inner-directed and socially concerned, they're activists, volunteers and contributors to good causes more than other Americans. However, because they've been so invisible in American life, Cultural Creatives themselves are astonished to find out how many share both their values and their way of life. Once they realize their numbers, their impact on American life promises to be enormous, shaping a new agenda for the twenty-first century.Well, gee whiz! All this time I've spent using the words "culture" and "creative," and I had no idea what I was talking about.
See what I mean about the difficulty of dialogue?
The "cultural creatives" of behind the big Seattle demonstrations against the WTO are much praised by a man named David C. Korten in an interview here. Dr. Korten is a Vietnam veteran who has seen the light, and is one of the principle movers and shakers in (and a founder of) the Living Economies movement.
Those who want to get into depth beyond a list of slogans probably couldn't find a better place to start than with his introduction to the concept:
Having reached the limits of an Era of Empire, humanity is compelled to accept responsibility for the consequences of its presence on a finite planet, make a conscious collective choice to leave behind the excesses of its adolescence, and take the step to species maturity. It is the most exciting moment of opportunity in the history of the species.Final stage? Is that Orwellian, or Falwellian? (Sorry, but I was just trying be what I used to think was creative, but which I now know is conformity.)
Dr. Korten continues:
The global corporations that are the ruling institutions of the suicide economy are required by law, structure, and the imperatives of global finance to maximize financial returns to absentee owners without regard to the consequences for people or planet. In short, they are programmed to behave like cancers that seek their own unlimited growth without regard to the consequences. As these pathological institutions have consolidated their power, the imperatives of global finance have come to dominate the economic, political, and cultural lives of people, communities, and nations everywhere.I see it now. The suicidal corporations are simply programmed to be pathological cancers. What that means is that for the life of the rest of us, some serious surgery will have to be done. Right?
Yes; the diseased economy must be replaced. By healthy organisms:
The human future depends on moving beyond the self-limiting and ultimately self-destructive ways of Empire to live into being a new Era of Community in which life is the defining cultural value, cooperation and partnership are society's organizing principles, and networking is the predominant organizational form. The culture and institutions of the global suicide economy must be replaced by the culture and institutions of a planetary system of living economies that mimic the behavior of healthy living organisms and ecosystems.(The last link puports to provide biological proof of how the suicide economy will kill us just like cancer because profit equals human extinction. No, seriously.)
What is health? And how is the unhealthy suicide economy to mimic it?
By something called The Great Work!
The cultural and institutional transformation that this will require presents a profound evolutionary challenge and opportunity. Theologian Thomas Berry calls it The Great Work — a creative, life-serving work to create a more creative, vibrant, and fulfilling human future.Wow. Even words like "great" and "work" (words I throw around routinely) have huge meaning.
This dialogue stuff sure is heavy.
But it's imperative:
The imperative for transformation comes from the deepening social and environmental crisis provoked by the pathological institutions of the suicide economy. The opportunity for transformation flows from the elimination of geographic barriers to communication made possible by the communications technologies that are one of the more beneficial products of the suicide economy and from the awakening of major segments of humanity to a new cultural and planetary consciousness. The nexus of imperative and opportunity has given birth to a global civil society, spurred the growth of a powerful resistance movement, and set the stage for the emergence of a planetary system of living economies.Again, the malignant suicidal cancers will have to be cut out. From the body of society.
(Better not let the eliminationist rhetoric people hear about this!)
I try not to avoid discussing new concepts and ideads, but this stuff is all so complicated.
I've barely scratched the surface, but I think what is going on here can best be summarized as a sort of culture war between the pro-death suicide forces of malignancy and conformity the pro-life forces of living economy and creativity.
Pro life or pro death!
Life or suicide; that is the question.
Do I have to decide now, or can I just think it over?
Another problem is that in the case of radical ideas, disagreement is often beside the point, because they don't want to discuss ideas; they want to interfere with my life. If people want to take away my property by force, take away my right to defend myself, or force me remove my mercury-filled teeth, I can say that I "disagree," but of how much value is such a disagreement?
MORE: At the risk of sounding like even more of a conformist than I might be (depending on who's in charge of the conformation), I have to say, I marvel over the sheer Orwellian chutzpah of labeling disagreement as "conformity"!
And while I am a conformist for disagreeing with the Living Economistas, say on the GMO issue, in terms of logic I have just as much right to assert that anyone who disagrees with me is also a conformist!
posted by Eric on 09.10.06 at 11:20 AM
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