31 May 2011


I was walking the other day when I encountered a shadow of myself. There was an older man walking toward me. I guess he is living in the streets. He had a scraggly beard and was pulling a small roller bag that I imagine held all his possessions. There was a line of cars at the light next to him. He was yelling at the drivers about the price of gas, the cost of their cars and the general irresponsibility of owning a car and driving around with only one person in it.

Of course he seemed crazy. As we passed one another I simply said to him "It's crazy isn't it?" He looked at me with very clear eyes and nodding said "Yes, it is."


I moved to Paris right about the time of 9/11. I was living there for about a year before I came to the US again. When I first arrived in the US, I met and had dinner with a good friend of mine who had been a client for almost a decade. He was a doctor, specializing in the nature of sleep, and the head of development for one of the large pharmaceutical companies. Having been out of the US since 9/11, I asked what it was like since then. He and his wife looked at one another, looked around the restaurant and began to tell me in whispered tones what it was like, in their experience. I could not help myself, I had to ask if the waiter was an informant of some sort. They had not even realized they were whispering.


Several months ago while taking an early train in California, I was gazing out the window, thinking and watching some miles of orchard pass. In the verge between the orchards and tracks I saw a dead body. He was lying face down, jeans, check flannel shirt, and work boots in a pool of blood surrounding his head. I assumed from this that he had probably been shot in the head sometime in the early morning, since the blood was still red and had not been absorbed into the dirt. My own surprise and dismay was very brief, followed by an analytic scrutiny and curiosity; all of this taking place for what felt an extended period, when in fact it was just moments at 50mph or so. After the body passed from my view, only then did I feel a sorrow, wondering what had lead him to such a circumstance; wondering what had lead those who killed him to such a circumstance. No one else in the train car seemed to see the body.


Occasionally I have seen a man driving through town in a very distinctive yellow truck. It is distinctive in part because it is clearly a work truck and many of the trucks on the road are clearly not work trucks. I imagined it to have some special purpose. The man himself wears a flat brimmed, western style white hat. I guess it is a Stetson. There is always a little orange and white dog sitting in the passenger seat, looking out the front window of the truck. Both man and dog sit very upright. They look like a Norman Rockwell portrait of themselves.

I noticed this man in line at the post office behind me. He turned out to be a small, compact man dressed in boots, jeans, western style shirt, leather vest, bolo tie and the hat. He may have had a pocket watch. I am not sure. I have some impression of bits of metal here and there: belt buckle; clasp knife; small chain. I recognized him by his hat, from which I imagine he is never parted. I told him that I saw him driving through town in his yellow truck and asked him about it. I was curious if perhaps it was used for dairy or something of the sort. He said that yes, he owned the truck. I commented that I thought it looked to be a very high quality truck and wondered if it had some special use or purpose. He told me that everything he owned was high quality and that the truck was used for hauling things.

Everything about the his presentation seems composed to me. I do not mean he seems a man of great composure. Indeed, my impression is that he is very energetic, even impatient and was likely offended by some random person asking him random questions in a public building full of people. Affronted. No, I mean everything about him was composed as if intentionally painted just so. Perhaps this was some vestige of military habit from his past; possibly just a sort of pride or even vanity; or again an perhaps expression of a life self understood as moral. An ordered life of great routine, presented in an orderly way. In all these ways he was an icon of a particular moment of US culture. I noticed him in great part because he looks so out of place.


23 May 2011

Letter to a friend.

This is the major portion of a letter to a dear friend of mine over the past 25 years.

Thanks for talking yesterday. I was thinking about your expressed point of view. If I understand it it is something like:

An acknowledgment that change is necessary at the planetary level of human action.

Feeling that this change could come about through:

  • crisis, possibly resulting in a vast reduction of the human population.
  • technological (and free market) breakthroughs within the next two decades
  • social transformation

Crisis is not an acceptable outcome to you. You believe that social transformation takes too long and that there is no historical precedent for such a global transformation. You therefore feel your time and energy are best spent supporting the possible success of the current system and through that the level of technological innovation required.

Additionally one of your presuppositions is that the largest social challenge is the the 'tsunami' of raised expectations around the world, wherein people have or will come to have expectations of what you called 'a first world life style' and what I would call participation in an artificial and delusional consumer based system of economy and production. You believe that the only way to deal with our current chalenges is by technological breakthroughs that allow at least some of those expectations to be dealt with in some way. In particular you feel that the current system is our only real hope of creating an abundant source of energy that does not have all the unsustainable, negative consequences of the current system.

Am I more or less understanding your view? I am quite sure I have not got it all and know I have smoothed over some of the nuance of your view. Please forgive me for that if it feels offensive to you any way. I enjoyed our conversation and respond below, consistent with some of the things I was suggesting yesterday.

17 May 2011

How does it happen?

Assume for a moment that most people in a corporation, if not all, are well intended. How does it happen that the corporation then ends up involved in things that are counter to such good intentions? This question has been one of the most interesting questions to me in my own corporate work. I spoke with many, many people in corporations, all over the world. These conversations were usually very immediate and personal, about the things that mattered most to those people. People were often hungry for a place to talk about what really mattered to them, and the corporate culture does not typically enable that. The very simplified version of this is that people do not actually spend a lot of time directly thinking about things like 'shareholder' value and such. Most people, even in the executive suite, are simply not 'motivated' be these things. They think about what you might expect them to think about and are moved by what you might expect them to be moved by: family, community, joy, love, etc.

Often the conversations I had lasted years, even decades, with particular leaders and corporations. In my experience, which is anecdotal, these leaders at all levels of a corporate enterprise, wanted to 'do the right thing' and typically had some view about what that was. It was also the case that there was a consistent gap between that desire and what was actually happening. This condition has been one of the central areas of inquiry for me over the past decades. In fairness, this condition also guided the selection of work in which I was engaged, so I have a slanted view. On the other hand, that view covers 40+ countries on every continent over a period of roughly 20 years.

My friend and colleague, Robert Hanig, often describes his work as having to do with enabling the 'proprioception' of the human system. In essence this means the system becoming self aware both at the level of the individual and the collective. This means there is a working and active correlation between the assumptions held, actions taken, and results accrued. The participants and enactors of the system hold and are informed by this awareness. Practically, this involves a whole variety of things, but this is the general idea. In the presence of such awareness the question about the ethics of the system and the individual can be meaningfully asked and correlated to decisions and actions.

16 May 2011

The Sparrow

I was sitting outside today near a water fountain. There was a sparrow on the edge of the fountain looking at it. For a moment I thought I should get up and run the fountain to give the sparrow some water. I realized that doing so would scare the sparrow away, but I thought it might come back. From where I was I was sitting I could not see into the basin of the fountain. While I was considering this the sparrow splashed in the water that was already there, as sparrows will do.

I think it is more or less all like this. The water is already there and we cannot see it, due to our active point of view, which we treat as a passive and pre-given condition. It is a kind of strategic and 'functional' blindness. We take well intentioned, even necessary seeming action based on our current inability to see the water and create all the consequences of such action. We then have to deal with all those consequences and come to treat them as if they were also pre-given.

We seek to unify what is already whole. Doing so requires that we first actively fragment that whole, or relate to it as if it were fragmented and as if we have nothing to do with that. This becomes more and more layered and self reinforcing. The resulting actions and systems of apparent fragmentation and separation to interpret what is already interconnected and whole result in one aspect of what we call 'evil.' We might feel that such 'evil' is outside of us, or inside of us, but it is a product of that fragmentation and separation in either case. We relate to ourselves in a similar fashion, as if we were not whole and as if something needed to be done about that. We might attribute that 'evil' to some external source even as we fragment ourselves doing so.

15 May 2011

Considering J.P. Morgan

I confess that I am a bit confused by what I am considering... and I have things to do.  I think this is one of the things that happens to us when considering our current condition.  There is a moment when the connections, implications, challenges, structures, relationships, etc. all become very complex.  It can become difficult to understand how to get things done.  Questions about inclusion and exclusion go right out the window.  Then it seems to me that we might at some such point begin to deploy or rely on strategic coping to deal with the complexity and feeling of confusion.  The confusion itself might be a coping mechanism.  I have some form of all this going on much of the time.

I am also not a conspiracy theorist.  I mostly just consider such conspiracy theories advanced forms of blame, which is to say they may indicate some part of what is occurring, but are usually very convenient for the holder.  These things I write are not meant to be some sort of definitive research or suggest prescriptive answers.  I am simply working through what I can feel about the delusional insanity of this moment as best I can.  These are meant as reflections on that process.  If you have chosen to read these, please do not take them as more than that.

I am currently thinking about J.P. Morgan Chase.  I do not apparently have any explicit, immediate relationship to J.P. Morgan.  At the time of the J.P. Morgan, Chase merger I was working for a consultancy that was helping with the post merger integration.  J.P. Morgan was not my client, but I was writing white papers about post merger integration and working with the team that was accountable for the post merger integration and redesign from time to time.  Like most mergers that merger did not do most of the things that were espoused as the purpose for the merger.  In terms of wealth consolidation however, it was very effective, which should be the real measure and regulatory concern with mergers, since that is the actual purpose.  This incongruence between espoused ends and actual ends is a gold mine for management consultants, since most people in the corporation fully believe that they must produce the espoused ends and do everything they can to do so.  Most consultants believe this as well.

09 May 2011

Coping Mechanisms

I have several things I am working on, but I wanted to leave a short post on coping mechanisms. In short coping mechanisms are the things we do to adapt ourselves to a system functioning perfectly in a way that produces results and consequences we find problematic. "Cope" originally means 'to come to blows' as in coup d'etat. Amusingly there is an obsolete meaning having to do with 'traffic'. I ran across an example of a coping mechanism on the front page of the NYT yesterday.
"It is the urban driver's most agonizing everyday experience: the search for an empty parking place." Matt Richtel, NYT, 8 May 2011

The article went on to describe a phone app that will help solve this apparently agonizing experience. The only 'catch' mentioned in the article was that drivers might pay too much attention to their phones. It is a $20 million project in San Francisco.

This is what is meant by a coping mechanism. I won't go into a lot about that since I feel it is pretty obvious as an example. The one thing I did want to point out is our relationship to it. It is on the front page of the Times. It is considered a 'breakthrough' that we should celebrate, even as it strengthens and reinforces the dynamic it is trying to address (e.g. it encourages people to drive, it reinforces a mental model and way of life about that as a given, etc.). It takes the system producing the 'problem' as a given at the structural level and then adapts to that. It is lauded because much urban congestion, and therefore also emissions are produced by people driving around looking for parking spots. Presumably it lessens that and is therefore considered an efficiency. This makes it an interesting study in efficiency as a coping mechanism. It is both a 'free market' and a technological fix ("fix" as a noun also meaning a position from which it is difficult to move oneself or a dose of narcotics).  This simple, easy to see, example illustrates in part the difficulty with an ideology that minimizes the degree of transition and change currently needed on the basis of 'free market' or technological 'breakthroughs.'

04 May 2011

What to do, what to do?

Honestly, I feel as if my reflection has become more reactionary than reflective. It is interesting to notice. It might always be that way.

The image is a 1954 ad from Monsanto posted on Good. I clearly remember hearing an ad on my little red, white and blue transistor radio in about 1967 releasing a report definitively showing that people born after 1960 would be likely to live until 150 years of age or longer because of our miraculous mastery of chemicals. At the time, I sure hoped I had been born in time to get in on that. I checked in on this memory from time to time growing up, looking for evidence that it might be the case. Later I was convinced that this was exactly what was meant by having forgotten the Tao, and was a recipe for a short, painful life, rather than some imagined longevity and immortality.

I seem to write and talk with people a lot about what not to do. I hope it is clear that this is not meant simply as a moral injunction, or some sort of answer to something. It simply seems to me in my own life that there are things to cease, the cessation of which makes the field of possibility and whatnot available. The cessation is a kind of very simple ground for cultivation. Such cultivation can be understood esoterically in terms of simple practice, but it can also be understood as the cultivation of community and a balanced relationship to our embodied, enacted presence on the planet. Such cessation also requires a component of awareness. It is then something about an integration of state and action.

The what to do itself does not seem that complicated in and of itself. That is true for me and Donald at any rate. The complication arises in the face of what seems to me an unbalanced and increasingly complex way of being and acting on the planet together. Which is to say that complexity arises from the connectedness of structure and dynamic interaction... sometimes called life. In the moments and ways that we are unconscious of our production of and participation in such interrelatedness it can occur as if the complexity were given full blown, as a pre-condition of reality.

Here are some things to do and stop doing, from my point of view. I am not particularly good at these things. In some cases I lack the necessary skills and I have not yet done the simple things to acquire those skills. The disposition in which such things are stopped, is as important to me in many regards as stopping them. This is so much the case for me that even having successfully checked something off some list, but in a way that was consistent with its existence in the first place does not result in the fundamental cessation I am attempting to talk about here. With regard to my 'past' life I feel I have done remarkably well in many regards. With regard to the actual planetary condition and appropriate, balanced living and participation with that, I would say I am still more or less at the level of complete and utter failure. This does not particularly bother me since I view that as a necessary and important part of the process. This does not constitute a justification of any sort, unless I make it so. That may bother you.

02 May 2011


I feel it entirely possible that the fact that Osama Bin Laden has been killed, murdered, punished, etc. depending on your view, does more to justify his unjustifiable acts of violence against the US, than anything else. I have read elsewhere that the message is 'justice.' My own feelings on this are likely to be viewed as seditious by many people.

I think the message is something like:

"Don't mess with me, mine or my stuff. If you do I will hunt you down and kill you, regardless of the cost or consequences to mine or anyone I perceive as seeking to slow or obstruct me in this process. I will destroy the homes and lives not only of the people who may harbor you, but of anyone in any way deemed to have obstructed my execution of justice. I will take decades to do this if necessary. I will dedicate most of the resources of my people to this, above the need for health, education, community or environmental integrity. I will value this above life and life systems. I will murder large portions of the population wherever you are found on the planet. I will destroy the means of industry, succor, community, culture and livelihood of anyone remotely associated with your ideology, 'ethnicity,' faith or geographic location. I will destroy the fabric of your families. I will salt the earth of your civilization and burn whatever faith you may hold. I will not pursue an eye for an eye. If you take my eye, I will attempt to crush you and yours entirely. I will seek to remove the possibility of seeing not only from you, but from all of yours, for all time. Anyone of yours that I have not killed outright, I will capture, imprison and torture if I am able. I will arrange it so that I profit from my just punishment of you and yours, even at the expense of my own people, for whom I claim justice. If necessary I will run my own into the ground of sickness, oppression, tyranny and violent death, if it means your death and the death of yours. I will send my own young against you to die in numbers, forever scarred and changed in the process, many beyond any chance of reintegration or recovery. I will do so at the expense of life and any regard for planetary consequences. I will carry all this cost, fear, hatred and consequence into any foreseeable future, be it decades or centuries. I will neglect the suffering of others until I have destroyed you and yours or died in the process. I will not cease in any of this, even after your death."

Heh. I imagine that actually sounds good to some people. Like resolve or something. You know, gets you all riled up. Pitchforks. Torches. These colors never run, etc. Let's you know who you are and who they are. Nice and neat.

The official US death count for institutionalized violence in Iraq is currently 33,023. The estimated count is more like 100,000. The estimated number of Iraqis killed is around 100,000. Another 2,340 for Afghanistan coalition forces. I cannot find any sort of definitive seeming number on Afghani casualties, but it seems about 20,000 with 80,000 or so people displaced from their homes. An estimated 4.7 million people have been displaced in Iraq. This is probably about half the actual number. Displaced means that their homes, communities and means of livelihood have been destroyed... razed... salted. I have no idea how to really even begin to consider the scope of environmental damage and damage to life and planetary systems.