Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Spirituality, Marketing, and Intelligent Feedback Loops

Last night, I enjoyed a video called "Last of the Dogmen" that I heard about on Netflix in a negative review of a different video. That got me to thinking. (Doesn't take much, I must admit.)
For a long while, I have felt that there was something a bit off in most spiritual advertising, that modern spirituality should not uncritically accept advertising/marketing practices that are so grounded in non-truth. But I did not quite see an alternative, other than to advertise poorly or not at all, which is pure but doesn't spread the teaching. And the sites I have seen that are not 100% adoration are 100% negativity. What is needed is the kind of review system they use on Netflix or Amazon and in many shopping sites.

Review: "I was disappointed in this workshop because it turned out to be all lecture and no workshop. The only thing workshop about it was the higher price".
7 of 8 readers found this review useful.
Review: "Tom is the greatest teacher in all history. We are so blessed to be alive and be able to sit in his presence!"
0 of 15 readers found this review useful.

Seekers who like Ganga-ji also liked
Eli Ramana Pamela Adyashanti.

Much of the charge I had held about teachers, the expectation and the disappointment, dissolved recently at a retreat. But the question remains about the role of mystical/esoteric (not exoteric*) teachings in modern societies that are materially prosperous and politically freer but where those very advances are creating the desire and need for spiritual meaning faster than that meaning is being found, created, and spread.

Interesting planet.

* In other words, the role of teachings that focus on changing who you experience yourself as inside rather than on your behavior outside. "Do you belief in God?" is an exoteric question. "Who is the 'you" who believes or doesn't?" is an esoteric question.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

As the World Shrinks, It Gets Too Large

As the world shrinks, people come in contact with other nations, other cultures that they had been barely aware of. There is a limit as to how much change, how much of the unfamiliar people can assimilate in a given period of time. Education and material prosperity and security can raise this amount, but the limit is still there.
The Internet is changing and shrinking the world (or as Thomas Friedman puts it, flattening it) faster than people are comfortable with. Some of the symptoms of this are obsessive anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1st world, hatred of the West in Islamic nations, the rise of the Christian Right in the US.
What is needed is the capacity for a more conscious guiding of social development. Social development driven more by an overall vision that treats all people as important.
As it stands now, social development is unconscious. Much of it is good: the spread of education, increased capacity of ordinary people to understand the big picture, improved status and freedom for women and minorities, the shift of much of eastern Asia and now parts of India out of poverty and into modern prosperity. Some of it is not so good. In particular, the way that hyper-competitive globalization throws the "losers" onto the trash heap: much of rural China, 1st world blue collar workers, most of Africa, the Arab and other Islamic nations (except those people on the oil dole), much of Latin America, much of rural India.

The Long March (psychology of a movement)

If the need for the Long March really arose because Mao and his allies had purged the party so much that it could no longer hold its base area and was forced to flee, how did this purge change the party? Were the kind of people drawn to the organization different before and after? If the culture of the organization changed, would it not attract a different kind of person?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Worldwide, overweight people now outnumber the undernourished?!

I am not sure what this means, but it means something.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Increasing Muslim immigration to US

Story in New York Times about Muslim immigration to US rising again after post-9/11 drop
Good sign in a number of ways:
1) People from predominantly Muslim nations still want to come here.
2) They can come here.
3) This gradually builds up connections between those nations and us, connections that endure even through political tensions and that somewhat undercut any attempts to demonize America (and the modern West in general) in those nations.
4) Muslim-Americans are finding ways of life that combine first world prosperity and freedom with Islam, creating a model that will aid people in their countries of origin to find their way through the difficult transition from the traditional world into the modern world.
(A transition that was difficult and brutal for every people who has passed through it so far. For Europe and North America, this transition involved: the 30 Years War, the French Revolution, the US Civil War, the Russian Revolution, WW1, WW2, the Irish famine, the depopulation of rural Scotland, the Ukraine famine of the 1930s, Stalinism, Naziism.....)
5) America feels familiar and less alien to people around the world.


For the sake of national security, I propose that Pakistani-Americans be recruited to lead a program to provide modern education, with science and languages, to replace madrassas in Pakistan that are teaching racist and violent teachings under the label of Islam.
Might not be cheap, but much smarter than waiting to deal with Taliban with nukes.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Learning something new is physically good for you

Link to a fascinating article about a new paradigm of adult brain development.
How Prozac works, the impact of poverty on the brain, how science learns (in fits and starts)


Monday, September 04, 2006

Many languages, one language

In human evolution, the advantage of having many different languages and dialects was that it enabled each village to tell "ours" from "not ours". The advantage of a uniform language over broader area is that it facilities trade and other positive interaction. (Wow! Those girls from the Furry Squirrel village......)
Nowadays, having a different language provides little useful defense that is not provided by other means (passports for example), but the advantage of people able to participate in global trade is enormous. (There are also major advantages to being able to pick and chose which trade to take part in, but you need to be able to participate in the first place to be able to pick and chose.)
This suggests that there is a force pushing people toward a unified language. Right now that language is English, but a global English could evolve that is distinct from American or British or any other national English. Particularly if the United States continues to prefer the front lines of pointless wars over the front lines of knowledge.

Religion and copyrights

The problem for knowledge creation/dissemination that copyrights/patents try to solve is freeloading.
In early human evolution (around 50,000 years ago) the original solution to free-loading in society was the development of religion as a way to create the collective sacred. The collective sacred was where bonds of trust and reciprocity were formed and grounded.
Language and religion may well have evolved together.

Copyright/Patent Laws Aid the Powerful

Handling copyrights/patents through laws (as opposed to some other mechanism) is advantageous to those with power because they can "lawyer up" more effectively. In marginal cases (which patent/copyright issues often are), the volume of argument/lawyering one can pay for can be decisive.

Humans aren't Human

"Of the trillions and trillions of cells in a typical human body \ at least 10 times as many cells in a single individual as there are stars in the Milky Way \ only about 1 in 10 is human. The other 90 percent are microbial. These microbes \ a term that encompasses all forms of microscopic organisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and a form of life called archaea \ exist everywhere. They are found in the ears, nose, mouth, vagina, anus, as well as every inch of skin, especially the armpits, the groin and between the toes. The vast majority are in the gut, which harbors 10 trillion to 100 trillion of them.
In the womb, humans are free of microbes."
Forget where I ran across this, but it impressed me.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Headless Economy

The true cutting edge of the global economy is dulled and fragmented, like an overused razor, due to the lack of the necessary social arrangements. What we have the technical ability to tackle is blocked because we do not know how to handle it socially. A good example would be putting every book ever printed in any language online. A huge project that would have incalculable benefit for productivity and for human culture. (And also spur education world-wide and create a massive new translation industry combining crude but easy machine translation with higher-quality human translation where needed.) Technically, this would now be a laughably easy task. With computer storage costs plummeting, it would not even be particularly expensive. But socially, it is out of the question. The obstacle shows up as a copyright issue, but it actually runs much deeper than that. Another area where the obstacles are clearly social, not technical is online distribution of music, video, and books.
The economy has shifted from being labor-driven (the more labor one could mobilize, the more powerful the economy), to capital driven, and now to knowledge driven. The problem is that knowledge is fundamentally different from both labor and capital. Knowledge, once created, is wildly easy to reproduce. By comparison, labor and capital are about as difficult to reproduce as to create (although the initial phase of the reproduction of labor is notoriously fun and does play a major role in human culture).
Trying to organize knowledge-driven production with the rules of a capital-driven economy (i.e. our economy up to the 50s or 60s or so), is like trying to organize a capital-driven 1950s economy by the rules of medieval feudalism. Put it this way. The difference between what the cutting edge of our economy actually is and what it could be is at least as large as the difference between the former East Germany and West Germany. Possibly more like North Korea and South Korea.
The rules we play by for organizing labor and capital for production can not organize knowledge-centered production. To get around this contradiction, we cripple the reproducibility of knowledge by using copyrights and patents to convert knowledge into a product that is either difficult-to-reproduce or an outright monopoly. The alternative is that we give it away or take it for free as though it has no value at all. (When the taking is against the will of a copyright/patent holder, this is called piracy.) The third alternative is that we give the knowledge away for free but with counter-knowledge (advertising) attached. This more or less works as long as knowledge is peripheral to economic production. But when knowledge becomes the core of the economy, then these approaches cut the heart out of economic development.
For a knowledge-driven economy to move forward, two aspects of knowledge must be supported: its creation and its dissemination. Copyrights and patents reward knowledge creation but at the cost of crippling knowledge dissemination. This also indirectly undermines the next cycle of knowledge creation. (Company X is rewarded for the profitable knowledge it creates (a new drug, a new song, a new technique for producing electronic circuits) but is held back by its lack of access to knowledge held by Company Y.) Giving it away/taking it for free maximizes dissemination but discourages knowledge creation. The advertising model does reward knowledge creation and supports some dissemination, but warps both processes by rewarding only that information that fits with advertisers' agendas. To see what I mean, just watch CNBC. In addition, it is hard to see how advertising could be applied to books or pharmaceutical research, for example.
We take it for granted that developing, catching-up economies like Japan in past decades, then the Asian Tigers, and China now can grow at much higher rates than the most advanced economies. This is only the result of the loss of the cutting edge. Advanced economies mobilizing knowledge should be able to grow much faster than catching-up economies, which normally are first mobilizing labor, then capital. What we think of as high growth in an advanced economy (4-5%) is catatonia compared to what we will accomplish when we find ways to organize knowledge-centered production. However, the transition involved will be at least as large as the transition from the Medieval Age to the Modern Age.
If any society is going to lead us into this transition, it will need to be one already at the very cutting edge of current production and with sophisticated, flexible social organization. Because of their high level of R&D and because they show some signs of questioning the copyright/patent shiboleth, I would lay my bet on the Scandinavians.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Being Human

Do you ever think about what it means to be human, in the sense of to be
a sentient being in a medium-sized mostly hairless ape body? Our
deepest formative experiences - the one's reached in certain deep
spiritual work - are affected by the life cycle of humans - how we are
born so helpless. Things might be different for sentient horses. I
read a book in which there were sentient frogs and their entire
psychology was formed by the experience of millions of eggs being born
and 99.9999% of them being eaten immediately by the father. Those folks
had a majorly strange relationship with their god. I am listening to a
book now in which there is a race of sentient predator birds, like
eagles. So human pack behavior is replaced by a need for a lot of space
and there is not much hierarchy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

About "American Theocracy" by Kevin Phillips

I was fascinated by the detailed (and perhaps slightly overstated)
parallels between past great powers just before their decline and the
United States right now: the rise of intense religiosity, the sense of
being on a mission for God, the shift from making things (manufacturing)
to manuevering money (finance), and the rise of debt.
Also by the deep roots of the specific type of religion that goes
back to England, Scotland, and Holland in the late 1500s to 1600s and
leads all the way to the current disaster in Iraq.
I speculate that one factor in Kevin Phillips moving from the prophet of
the rising Republican Party in the Nixon days to the deep critic of that
party now is the fact that he is a Catholic conservative with a taste
for tradition and humble earnestness, not an evangelical or fundamentalist conservative with a
taste for Armegaddon and triumphalism.

Religion and Evolution of Average Ego

Is the history of religion a window into the particular form of the average ego as it evolves over time? Or is this just the surface appearance changing while the structure of egoing remains fairly constant?
If the history of religion does reflect/drive changes in the patterns of average ego, what can we learn from the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism, in particular the shift from emphasis on a single universal (catholic) church to "everyman with his own Bible and his own interpretation".
For example, I believe that the rise of fundamentalisms world-wide is an attempt to deal with reasonable insecurities in the face of rapid technological and social change. But do any of the fundamentalisms change the pattern of egoing (what is constrained/what is able to flow and grow)?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Link to good detailed analysis of Iranian leadership

I have no way to verify the details, but this analysis makes sense to me.

In coverage of Iran, I have seen a discontinuity between what was said just before the last Iranian election (Iranians tired of Islamicist dogmatism and corruption and want to join the advanced modern world) and what was said since the election (Iranians backing someone who is a right-wing extremist even by Iranian standards). The post-election coverage did not even mention this discontinuity, no less explain it. Was there a real shift within Iranian general opinion or had we just misread the pre-election situation? Or is the post-election explanation misleadingly simplification?

Or is the situation in Iran too similar to the situation in the US to tolerate seeing it accurately (those least well off under the current system taking refuge in religion and extreme right-wing religion that seems to go against their own material interests)?

The analysis in this article is consistent with both the pre- and post-election appearances and that gives it credibility in my eyes: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/HD26Ak02.html

I read http://www.atimes.com daily for the incredible variety of viewpoints expressed. Many are tendentious (=all but mouthpieces for some political interest), some are simply moronic, but many are jewels, it becomes very obvious very quickly who the mouthpieces represent (usually viewpoints one never hears directly in the mainstream media), and Spengler is quite thought-provoking even if I totally disagree with him more often than not.

This web site would be a great resource for a course on critical thinking.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Human Body and Who We Are

As a species, we evolved walking across the savannah. Tens of miles a day. So our body is optimized for walking - a human being is the fastest land animal on the planet over very long distances. Partly because we don't have to stop and chew our cud. Although many of us do, in point of fact.
On the other hand, our heads have evolved to be large enough to hold very large brains.
These two facts form the razor's edge of our evolutionary development. The hips of human females must be narrow enough to walk long distances but wide enough to give birth to big-headed babies.
This makes birthing in our species uniquely difficult.
Also, if you compare the timing of the major events in the life span of humans with that for other primates, everything is proportional. Except birth. If we spent the same proportion of our lives in the womb as other primates do, we would be born 15 months after conception, not 9. So in a sense, all humans are born 6 months premature.

Links We Have, It's the Chain That Missing

The Sociology of Enlightenment

Since the 1960's, the West has witnessed an explosion of traditional wisdom teachings from the East, yoga, 37 flavors of meditation, tai chi, chigung. There has also been massive development in experiential psychotherapies. Nowadays we have a vast panoply of techniques and teachings to help us develop the self and to go beyond it.
These are the links. The chain does not exist yet. What is waiting over the horizon is the whole that each of these practices and teachers and communities of practice are the parts of.
But right now, the whole does not exist and the parts are held back by having to function without the whole. However, the fact that someone can imagine it, suggests that it is coming into the range of future possibilities.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Link to detailed analysis of Iranian nuclear issue

I don't agree with all of this article, but it has more detail and just strikes me as more knowledgeable than anything else I have read so far. So I see it as a good starting point.
I also like that this author constructed his recommendations on Iran without invoking either a demonic Iran or demonic US president. And that he seems to actually like the Iranian people


Sunday, April 02, 2006


I give Serenity the movie and Firefly the TV show (out on DVD) 5 out of 4 possible stars.
Check them out.

Patents, liege lords, copyrights, and droit du seigneur

The issue of intellectual property takes many guises: music and movie piracy/anti-piracy, generic drugs, the cost of AIDs medicine in poor countries, students lugging 50-pound backpacks full of obsolete textbooks, high tech patent wars and allegations of "patent trolls". As the economy is driven more and more by knowledge (and less by labor or hardware), these issues will become more crucial, widespread, and bitter.

No enduring solution will be found under anything resembling the current economy. Knowledge is as different from the material goods our economic rules are designed for as modern industry is different from medieval peasant farming. Maybe more different.
The difference is so obvious that it can be overlooked, so familiar that it can be forgotten: If I give you my car, I no longer have it. If I give you a copy of a DVD or CD, we both have it. Materials goods are inherently scarce and economics is about doling out that scarcity. Knowledge is inherently abundant and wants to spread and develop.
In our material-goods economy, we have two ways to treat knowledge. Both fail. One way is to use patents and copyrights to make knowledge as scarce, hard to reproduce, and expensive as material goods. This worked to some degree as long as knowledge was a small, peripheral part of the economy. It also helped that the most economically important knowledge was held within large organizations and largely kept outside of the marketplace.
But now that knowledge is the central force of the economy, crippling the spread and combination of knowledge means slowing down the economy. And as the Internet shifts economic activity from monolithic organizations (think IBM or the Soviet Union) into complex varying networks (think of the supply chains from China to Walmart's or Dell), it becomes necessary to share valued knowledge across organizations that are not permanently united.

When we don't treat knowledge like coal or iron or wood, we treat it like air. We just take what we want for free. This works great for the spread and combination of knowledge but it cripples the creation of knowledge. Musicians won't create music for free. Nor will biochemical researchers drag themselves to work. If you're not getting paid anyway, might as well go surf.

How can we both facilitate the spread and combination of knowledge and reward those who create it? Sorry, I don't know. Once I look the problem square in the eyes from an overall point of view, not from the view of one particular interested party, such as a patent holder or someone who wants to buy music without being ripped off by the music industry, I can not even imagine a workable solution.
Actually, I don't think it is even possible to know. Yet. We (that means the entire first world and probably the third world too) will have to evolve an entirely new level of social organization, as different from us now as we are from Europe in the Middle Ages. And it is not possible to see that kind of thing before it comes. The most one can do is peer slightly over the horizon.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Meditations on ending the culture war

When the current regime in Washington finishes its collapse, those who put their faith in Bush and his team will feel profoundly hurt and disappointed. Bush's government is failing by being and doing exactly what his followers asked for. It is not his personal failure but the total failure in its own terms of the Christian right as a political force. I can not overstate just how painful and scary this failure is going to be for many of them. This disappointment will be deeper and more far reaching than anything liberals have known in my lifetime. How the rest of us respond will be critical.
If we treat them the way many of us feel they have treated us, we will earn yet another, probably even nastier round of cultural war. On the other hand, we can feel their pain and emphathize, we can open up to them as fellow human beings enough that we can see into the basic decency of their core desires - despite the indecency of some of how that has manifest.
A balanced diet requires many different foods in the appropriate portions. Even the best single food would be harmful if eaten to the exclusion of all other foods. Similarly, any human group, be it tribe or nation or planet, requires many different views, many different voices to function. Some of us will need to brandish the painful failure of the Bush experiment as a whip to silence his supporters. That is understandable. But we all need Bush's followers to give healthy expression to the parts of the puzzle that they hold. I hope that those of us who can, will empathize with them and welcome them into the dialog.

Monday, January 09, 2006


My core curiosity is about awakening the deepest and truest human potential. I have practiced many different modern Western psychological techniques, such as gestalt, encounter groups, tantra, breath work, dehypnotherapy, body work. I was a student of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, am a student of Vajrayana Diamond Way (Tibetan Tantric Buddhist) Lama Ole Nydahl, and am learning/practicing Big Mind with Genpo Roshi. This work is primarily experiential.
My core curiosity is how we can wake up, how more of us can actually complete this practice, what practices would enable far more people to wake up, and how the development of society is creating new potentials for larger-scale awakening and how the creation of awakening as a social phenomenon, not just an individual one, can change society.
In other words, being fully awake, timeless, and fully human in the early 21st century.

Other relevant terms:
Integral, Ken Wilber, chod, guru, enlightenment, A. H. Almaas, felt sense, soul recognition, circuitry alignment, John de Ruiter, Poona 1, Enneagram,

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The enneagram and the Christian Right

The enneagram is a map of nine personality types, their passions (sins) and virtues, and how to go beyond personality.
In this system, One is the perfectionist, the moralist, the Puritan. Three is the doer, the winner. America as a nation is a combination of the puritan and the winner, two types that do not harmonize with each other easily.
Fundamentalist Christianity was originally a One phenomenon. "The world at large is a wicked and sinful place. Live apart from it for the reward in the next world." The focus was inward to avoid being caught up in the temptations of the world.
In recent decades, fundamentalism has shifted to become more and more a Three phenomenon. "Live right and Jesus will reward you." Mega-churches provide relationship counseling and job and social networking. The focus is outward.
But the inner puritan is still alive. So moral short-comings are projected onto non-believers. This allows the believers to not see just how worldly their religion is becoming.
More generally, it is important to see what role right-wing Christianity serves for its followers. And not to take for granted that this role is primarily religious.

All spiritual groups, schools, centers, lineages, workshops, workshop centers, etc. are parts of a whole that has not yet come into existence. A whole that can only be brought into existence by the parts that make it up. No one individual and no one group can do that job.
What this whole will be like, I do not know. No one can know. Yet.
Most spiritual groups do not even know that there is a whole yet to be born. So most make do one way or another. A single community (sangha) or teaching either may try to handle areas that it is not very good at. Or it may deny the importance or even the existence of any spiritual practice/area outside its range of competence. "Just do this one practice and it will take care of everything."
Very rarely, a group or collection of a number of groups may try to create the whole-that-is-to-come by itself. From the top down. From on high.
What is the best posture to take? One of trusting curiosity.
This is not just about an approach that integrates these elements. It is about allowing something new to come into form, something new that will provide a new context in which existing elements can be more themselves because they are no longer needing to be what they are not.