Build … Don’t Tear Down

With the rise of Bernie Sanders, the socialist anti-capitalist rhetoric has surfaced again in the political arena. Only now it appears like it’s gaining traction. Sanders’ campaign, which in the past would be nothing more than an idealistic third-party run, has been a legitimate threat to the coronation of America’s first female president. Excuse my sarcasm but considering the Clinton legacy, it seems appropriate.

Screams of inequality and Sanders’ promises of universal healthcare and free college education for all has mobilized legions of young, male and female alike. I agree we have inequality. My #Occupy shirt has been worn so much it’s as much a part of me as my glasses and my morning yogurt. Still I don’t blindly follow campaign promises.

Ocupy shirt

We Must focus On The “How” … Not Just The “What”

My concern with Sanders stems from I believe in the “how” as much if not more than the “what.” And I’m not seeing the “how” from Bernie Sanders or from any other candidate for that fact. The three currently standing are vying for the top job in an institution that is so mired with polarizing dysfunction and ineptitude that none of them could hope to accomplish much more than basic housekeeping tasks. I wish they could, but recent history proves otherwise.

I cringe at the thought of Sanders’ universal healthcare initiative being attempted by the federal government. Remember this is same government who is in charge of the wellbeing of this country’s most revered citizens, our veterans. This is the same government when tasked to improve our veterans healthcare – made it insurmountably worse highlighted by appointment wait times of over six months and provider payments of at least that. Billings Clinic, where I was treated for my lymphoma and no bastion of operational excellence itself, has even stopped treating veterans on the government’s VA Choice plan because of slow or non-payment. Implementation is the hard work that gets little press and little glory … so therefore little attention.

I interact with many who espouse to the vision and philosophies set forth by Erik Olin Wright. This was brought to light by the response to a recent post by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, “How to be an anti-capitalist in the 21st century? Four proposed strategies …” The basis of the piece was Wright’s ideals of societal reform built around a modern-day version Marxist socialism. 

I agree with his assumption that our current version of capitalism is far from ideal. In fact a case can be made that it’s outright awful with neoliberalism being the driving force of this awfulness. But I don’t agree in Wright’s belief we should “smash capitalism.” Using an overworked cliché, I don’t think we need to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Having spent a lifetime in the traditional strongholds of liberal thought (University of California Berkeley and University of Wisconsin) reworking Marxism, I can see why Wright thinks as he does. However I don’t believe his vision bodes well for a pragmatic solution to the problems and opportunities we currently face.

Is our desired endgame a repeat of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 with its long-term consequences? Regardless of our intent, history indicates the socialistic ideal can turn into a metamorphosed abomination. Or even look at the current happenings in Venezuela where Nicolas Madura’s socialist government is in meltdown and taking the future of the country with it. With socialism we still have a hierarchy, often one even more rigid and institutionalized, leading us in a direction not determined by us, but rather by a privileged few. All we have to rely on is campaign promises … not plans for implementation as we should.

Turn Capitalism Into The solution

I don’t see capitalism in its original intent as the problem. It’s the neoliberal morph spawned by collusion of both political parties and unabated multinational corporate behemoths that is. It’s this morph that we should be attacking and “smashing.” Left to the volition of a community’s locally owned small businesses – capitalism produces jobs, civic involvement and a circular flow of money contained mainly within the community. It’s these local businesses and the support we give them I see as the road we need to take. This is my plan for implementation.

In the piece Orion … a Hybrid Governance Feline Metaphor,” I theorized an alternative two-pronged governance model birthed from the union of the David Hume philosophy of “spontaneous order” and our inherent benevolence, and Elinor Ostrom’s “opportunity of the commons.” Under this amalgamation, government would still exist in its present form, but in a lesser sense. Our over-reliance on it (economically and psychologically) would be replaced by pragmatic community based decision-making and implementation. I believe this alternative can enable change … a change that will help level the playing field through organic civic direct participation – not the blind faith bestowed upon less than sincere or competent self-serving politicians … regardless the party.

I want to focus only on the community empowerment side of the “Orion” hybrid now though. In this version of our Perfect World  (the Asian Leopard side of the hybrid) we would have a peer-to-peer system take influence over local matters through a network of neighborhood Front Porches (housed primarily but not exclusively in our community’s locally owned businesses). But since the Perfect World is not place but rather a journey, we need to have discussion on how we can map this journey – this transition or development of the hybrid.

Living in a society where all production is pooled commonly is hardly motivating for high achievers, the ones that drive innovation. I agree all of a society’s participants are entitled to minimum standard of well-being and the availability of opportunity. I also agree that isn’t happening today. But we can’t tether those who will lead the charge in constructing this Perfect World. I rather doubt that Erik Olin Wright or his protegés will give up their lives with the perks and niceties of their elite standing for the chance just to contribute to the pool. Our high-achievers, current and future, need to be able to bloom. They have to aspire to do great things. And for better or worse, these great things still need to be rewarded – yet not necessarily to the financial extent they are today.

And as a society, we need to create norms and acknowledgement of success that equates with benevolence not just material gain. Capitalism like socialism is a tool. How we use it and celebrate others that use it appropriately is up to us. Idolizing the wealthy, rather than the benevolent and expressive has created the world of inequality we live it. But our morals and societal personality cannot be legislated or dictated from above. They can only come from our collective heart and soul.

Rather than obsess on economic growth as most all governments societies do, we must focus on destroying the norms that retard our evolution while stressing the improvement of the well-being of our populace including its physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health. Making “helping others” our new societal expectation will empower us to supplant the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system with more altruistic ones – unleashing the inherent benevolence inside us.

This transition will not be easy though. It’s not that the resistance will only come from outside factions though. The resistance will be ourselves. It will be our struggle to change. It will be our refusal to give up on false ideals instilled in us when young and likely bequeathed by us to our children. This stifling tether connecting generations focused on material wealth and false sense of worth must be cut. Our relationship to materialism is no different from that we see in generations of abusers. As the Swiss philosopher Carl Jung said, “The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” The abused often become the abusers themselves. This is their coping mechanism. They know no other way of life. We must show them there is.

The Eight Stages Of Social Movements

In the Spring of 1987, Bill Moyer unleashed his treatise, “History is a Weapon, The Movement Action Plan: A Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements.” Moyer showed how patience is not only an advantage to a social cause – it’s mandatory to its success. His eight step framework uses the American anti-nuclear movement as its case study as it describes the steps needed for a successful movement to unfold and stick.

  • Stage one: Normal times
  • Stage two: Prove the failure of institutions
  • Stage three: Ripen Conditions
  • Stage four: Social movement takeoff
  • Stage five: Identity crisis of powerlessness
  • Stage six: Majority public opinion
  • Stage seven: Success
  • Stage eight: Continuing the struggle

One could say we are ready to enter Stage four. Normal times are long “past times behind” us, and over and over it’s been proven institutions are failing us. One only needs to look at the America’s current congressional dysfunction. And I believe Stage three is well upon us with #Blacklivesmatter and the rise of Donald Trump as a legitimate presidential option for many disenfranchised Americans.

Now is time for change; or as Moyer said “social movement takeoff.” But we need evolution not revolution. Complete overthrow, if even possible without Armageddon, most often results in unintended consequences like in Russia in 1917 or most recently in the Middle East. Just pick a country: Egypt, Iraq, Libya, etc. Social change takes time as Moyer has demonstrated. And patience and rooted organic support will be our biggest asset.

To do this we need not discard capitalism, but use it. We just have to return capitalism to the tool it can be, not what it’s become as we’ve sat idly by and let those with nefarious motives hijack it (public and private). We need to transform it to being a conduit for direct community involvement and decision-making. Whether it be government or corporate, more and larger static hierarchy is not the answer. No matter the intent, centralization and hierarchy inevitably breeds inequality and self-interest … not eliminate it. Socialism is no exception.

Bridging the chasm 2

Build … Don’t Tear Down

Rather than tear down … we must build. We don’t walk into the lion’s den and challenge the lion. We starve the lion. After all, the lion is a captive of ours. Our problem is that all along we have been feeding him through our habitual actions, creating a societal mega-corporate personality we’ve let dictate our world.

Gradually over time our new society will replace the old. Orion, Alexandria’s Bengal Cat is what they call an F8. F8 indicates he’s eight generational iterations removed from the original pairing of Asian Leopard Cat cross-bred with a domestic cat in Southern California. These multiple iterations of the breed have created what Orion is, a highly intelligent, engaged pet created for responsible experienced cat owners. This is what I hope to see in our societal future – an intelligent, engaged populace willing to take responsibility for their communities … not blindly accepting the decisions of others dictate their futures.

At first there will not be many of us. But as our success stories spread – others will want the same (i.e “starving the lion”). They will see there is a road other than the one they habitually travel without thinking. We must find ways to work with those intrenched in the status quo. Direct conflict will only harden their cemented views … accomplishing nothing. 

There will be defeats. There will be times we want to throw up our hands, let our impatience take over and rush head long into the lion’s den. These are times we need to continue to build, meticulously one societal brick at a time. Eventually our societal construct will be complete.

As Bill Moyer demonstrated: “Patience is our ally … and history is our weapon.”

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I invite you to join me on my journey in rebuilding community by reading my series,On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World.” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

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My Road to Political Disillusionment

It was late winter 2008 in Southern California. I split my time between a printing plant in Los Angeles and the high desert on the back side of the Angeles Mountains north of Los Angeles. Eight years of a Bush White House were coming to an end; and it seemed like America might be turning the proverbial corner. The Democratic primary race appeared to be between a woman and black man. Such a thing seemed inconceivable just a few years prior. For being the birthplace of modern democracy … the United States sure hadn’t put practice into what they preached.

From way back I’d been interested in politics. Actually interested may be an understatement. I remember being consoled while crying by the flag pole by the principal in 1968 as a 4th grader in North Dakota. It was the day after the Humphrey/Nixon election and I couldn’t understand why the blacks constituent in the South side of Chicago didn’t turnout to vote as Democrats hoped. If they would have; Illinois would have swung to Humphrey, no one would have had a majority (George Wallace was also in the race) – and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives. Having a Democratic majority, the House most likely would have voted in Hubert Humphrey as president. And at the time that was a big deal to me … for some reason.

It wasn’t that I liked one party more than the other – I just seem to like Humphrey. I hung around at the campaign headquarters for both parties that year pretty much every day after school. My room was so full of campaign paraphernalia that I had to move yard signs to even get in bed at night. When you’re nine, reasons for doing things don’t seem to make as much sense looking back. Regardless, the event was permanently imprinted in mind and started me down the path of political obsession.

In high school I (with my best friend Bill Thomas) organized a campaign for a Vo-Tech addition for our high school. From the time I could vote … I voted. I voted in every election – big, small, presidential, interim, national and local. Not only did I vote, I researched every race ad nauseam; even judges – yes judges.

While living in Irvine, California I ran my precinct for three years. I was a registered Democrat in a precinct that was 73% Republican. Not only did I run the precinct, I made sure that we were the first one that reported in our city. It was ‘game on’ and I was ready. It was an election.

My 100% hitting streak continued on to 2008 and the first Barack Obama election. I switched my registration to Culver City, California (where my friend Bill Swann’s printing plant was located) because I wanted to vote in an area that was highly minority (which I’m not). Bill’s plant was kind of like a ‘Front Porch’ for politics and black social issues. Bill is from Washington D.C. and was routinely prohibited from restaurants when he was growing up because he’s black. There were always people hanging around taking Obama and the possibilities he represented. The prospect of change was everywhere. It wasn’t that Obama was just black, it was he was young. Not since Kennedy did America have a presidential nominee (at least about to be) the young people could get behind. It seemed like he listened to them and genuinely wanted to help make the United States a place for all generations.

Even though I was a minority geographically speaking, I fit in. Being from North Dakota I had credibility. Senator Kent Conrad, head of the Senate budget commitment and one of the most powerful people in Washington was the first senator outside of Illinois to endorse Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Plus Conrad was a friend of my dad’s and used to speak at his high school class in North Dakota. I was “The Man” by association.

Well Obama was elected and I loved being in the middle of ‘hope.’ I got ‘high-fived’ by on the bus and at the grocery store. It was like the Lakers won the championship – for the first time.

Change illustration

But unfortunately, the rays of hope that had shinned so brightly only a few months before became obscured by dark clouds of reality. Chinks in Obama’s armour of change began to appear. His campaign promises seemed more like lip service than the foundation of the new America.

In response to their decimation of the economy – the ‘too big to fail’ banks were bailed out, let off without recourse and even allowed to consolidate more and get even larger.

Granted, the United States exited Afghanistan, but the drone hit squads didn’t stop; on the contrary, their use increased as much as the technology allowed it.

The War on Drugs, and the resulting societal destruction it reigned upon the primarily black urban cores – continued unabated. Using police force to address socio-economic shortcomings didn’t work during the eras of Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the other Bush … and it wasn’t working under Obama. Not only did this flawed policy have racial undertones, it was also generationally motivated. America’s younger minority generations were squarely put in the crosshairs while those committing the financial shenanigans that contributed to their plight were left unscathed.

For all its societal benefits (of which are many), Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the foundation of his legacy, the Affordable Healthcare Act – was built on the backs on the mandatory premiums paid by young people. The concessions (mainly coverage of pre-existing conditions) given by the insurance behemoths were in lue of the promise of young healthy enrollees.

And don’t get me going about Obama’s feet dragging on legalizing gay marriage. If it wasn’t for Joe Biden’s Freudian slip, who knows when Obama would have joined in the inevitable wave of public opinion.

But maybe most of all, the Obama administration, under the command of Education Secretary Arne Duncan (an old Chicago crony) – accelerated the use of the regimented standardized testing for America’s public schooling. This obsession focused on the memorization of often irrelevant facts and figures. What this misguided policy did was nothing but leave much of our youth woefully unprepared to face the increasing complexity of a future nothing like the one those setting the policies had to face. And the ‘every student should go to college’ model left an entire generation faced with debt that they will carry decades in the future … with often little to show for it.

The irony of it all was that these were the exact people, the voters, that put Obama in the White House in the first place. And now he had systematically turned his back on them.

Maybe it wasn’t Barack Obama as much as it was Washington and its ever-increasing polarizing dysfunction. In fact it’s the probably the latter. However I can’t let him off the hook. Because of the mismanagement of the Democratic party’s leader Debbie Wasserman Schultz (ultimately under Obama’s ‘thumb’)  – decisions to virtually abandon campaign efforts on the state and local levels have left the party in a precariously absent position where it matters most – closest to the people. Those elected to these positions and their decisions may not get the media attention, but affect our lives the most. This along with the party’s obsession over maintaining the Clinton aristocracy with its decades long relentless support for Hillary has gutted the party of any future national prospects.

All this coincided with the Hunger Games phenomenon and its eye-opening dystopian depiction of the future; as well as the advent of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This confluence of events put me firmly on my road to political disillusionment and searching for alternatives outside the boundaries of the traditional two-party representative governing model. My disgruntlement drained me, for the first time in over thirty years, of the energy to go out and vote in the 2012 election. My streak ended … and I left the park.

During the this time I was creating my small business marketing and loyalty program. I was working from my experiences recruiting talent in the digital and one-to-one marketing field. But there was something missing, the project didn’t quite feel complete. However nobel I thought the cause was to help small businesses compete against the invasion of the big box stores and Wall Street chains … it wasn’t enough.

But when my disillusionment and political frustration seeped into my professional creativity – hijacking my synaptic energies … Community 3.0  was born. I realized the marketing platform was just a piece of a bigger solution, an integral piece, but still just a piece nonetheless. I had to set the bar higher – much higher. My goal had become to create a pragmatic road to societal change through direct civic involvement using the efforts of small and local businesses as the conduit for participation.

No longer was it enough to vote, to campaign, and then expect someone else to come up with and implement the changes I felt necessary. Too often these politicians came with ulterior motives or were hand-tied by an bloated hierarchical system of governance designed for a time of much less complexity. I wanted a society that drew off the cultures of old where trust and reputation and the benevolence of neighbors and community were the cornerstones. Our current incarnation of pseudo-democracy was not doing it. In fact it was doing much to destroy these cornerstones.

If the insanity of America’s current presidential race doesn’t underscore the need for a new way of looking at things  – I don’t know what will.

If I can break rank  … we all can.

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

What do the genetics of a Bengal Cat and the evolution of economics have in common?

The United States is caught up in the hysterical frenzy of politics right now. Being the ratings whores they are, the media couldn’t have asked for a better scenario. They have a reality television show they can run twenty-four hours a day covering ad nauseam. Every mundane action and reaction, every tic and response is documented and analyzed, manufacturing an endless supply of so-called experts along the way. Yet absent from any discourse is whether any the candidates are actually qualified for the job. All that matters is the triviality of the hour by hour play-by-play of the Super Bowl of politics.

As if the spectacle of the election isn’t enough, the circus extends to those already in office. The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia has raised the bar of dysfunction to unbelievable new heights as the Republican Senate majority has declared they will refuse to even considered any replacement President Obama nominates. Add this to the other 250+ federal judge openings in limbo.

All hail those who we continue to elect to represent our best interests. (he says cynically).

Awful as this all is, the majority of the voting populace still actually believes who they elect will make a difference in their lives. Somehow the pie-in-the-sky campaign promises will magically become reality and years of economic and social trends, and personal career decisions will suddenly vanish with the election of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Each has their own personal mix of elixirs, totems, chants and phallic substitutes they use to induce us into the coma of cerebral stupor absent of all sense of personal self-determination. Rather than act for ourselves we look for an autocrat that will make things as they once were in “the good old days” … or least how we fallaciously thought they were.

The result of this political cock-fight (pun intended) is a misplaced, erroneous view of economic theories. By looking at governance through a dichotomous filter, we equate one party with one theory and the other with another. Republicans religiously worship the unfettered market rule approach, simplistically attributed to Adam Smith; and Democrats with “the state is the answer to all that ails us” position of Thomas Hobbs. We then further this divide by adding in the polarizing toxicity of the “no compromise” positions of virtually all candidates no matter the party or campaign – federal, state or local.

“Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

We have blinded ourselves to other options of economic thought … to other alternatives of civil participation and governance.

Commons cloud

Elinor Ostrom

In 2009, American Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for “her analysis of economic governance of the commons.” Ostrom’s work was so far outside the economic norm that she was considered a rebel. Had it not been for her prodigious meticulous research over thirty years and several continents, her work would have been summarily dismissed. But fortunately for all of us, it wasn’t; and because of it … we have another option.

Ostrom emphasized the role of public choice on decisions influencing the production of public goods and services. It’s this research into peer-to-peer governance that has shed light on an alternative way of looking at our society and how we mange it.

Elinor Ostrom mounted a remarkable challenge to the mainstream views in economics and political science. As she described it herself, her work is a systematic attempt to transcend the basic dichotomy of modern political economy.

On the one hand, there is the tradition defined by Adam Smith‘s theory of social order. Smith and his intellectual descendants focused on the pattern of order and the positive consequences emerging out of the independent actions of individuals pursuing their own interests within a given system of rules. That tradition where the study of markets—the competition among producers and consumers of pure private goods leading to a better allocation of resources—occupied a preeminent place.

On the other hand, there is the tradition rooted in Thomas Hobbes’ theory of social order. From that perspective, individual actors pursuing their own interests and trying to maximize their welfare lead inevitably to chaos and conflict. From that is derived the necessity of a single center of power imposing order. In Hobbes’ view, social order is the creation of the unique “Leviathan,” which wields the monopoly power to make and enforce law. Self-organized and independent individuals thus have nothing to do with making order. Most modern theories of “The State” have their origins in Hobbes’ vision of Leviathan.

In Ostrom’s view, the theorists in both traditions managed to keep not only the theories of market and state alienated from each other, they also managed to keep the basic visions of the two separated. Smith’s concept of market order was considered applicable for all private goods while Hobbes’s conception of the single center of power and decision applied for all collective goods. But what if the domains of modern political-economic life could not be understood or organized by relying only on the concepts of markets or states? What if we need “a richer set of policy formulations” than just “the” market or “the” state? Answering that challenge is probably the best way to see Ostrom’s work on governance and common pool resources: It’s an empirically based contribution to a larger and bolder attempt to build an alternative to the basic dichotomy of modern political economy, an effort to find an alternative to the conceptions derived from Smith and Hobbes.

“The presence of order in the world,” Ostrom writes, “is largely dependent upon the theories used to understand the world. We are not limited, however, to only the conceptions of order derived from the work of Smith and Hobbes.” We need a theory that “offers an alternative that can be used to analyze and prescribe a variety of institutional arrangements to match the extensive variety of collective goods in the world.” In response to that need, Ostrom has explored a new domain of the complex institutional reality of social life—the rich institutional arrangements that are neither states nor markets. These are for-profit or not-for-profit entities that produce collective goods for “collective consumption units.” Examples of such “consumption units” abound. They are small and large, multi-purpose or just focused on one good or service: suburban municipalities, neighborhood organizations, condominiums, churches, voluntary associations, or informal entities like those solving the common-pool resources dilemmas studied and documented by Ostrom around the world. They could be seen as a “third sector” related to but different from both “the state” and “the market.” (Elinor Ostrom on the Market, the State, and the Third Sector)

Ostrom showed us there is another way, an alternative. She showed us given the opportunity we can govern ourself. We can do it not through representatives and easily manipulated surrogates – but through our communities and groups we ourselves form. And not only can we do this, but it even might be more in order with our inherent human nature.

David Hume and the ‘Spontaneous Order’

18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume theorized that people are inherently good. What if rather than religiously following the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (proponent of all-encompassing government) and his pessimistic views of humanity with personal self-interest being the root of all our actions … we looked instead to Hume. He believed we were born with the virtues of benevolence, trust and commitment. This ‘spontaneous order’ did not need to be enforced by a greater overarching power or institution of human or theological making., but rather would be individually and collectively be more efficient and ordered on its own.

The idea of spontaneous order comes from the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular David Hume (also Adam Smith) who, famously, argued against Thomas Hobbes’ assumption that, without some Leviathan ruling over us (keeping us “all in awe”), we would end up in a hideous State of Nature in which life would be “nasty, brutish and short.” Hume’s counter-argument was that, in the absence of a system of centralized command, conventions emerge that minimize conflict and organize social activities (including production) in a manner that is most conducive to the Good Life.

Steadily, these conventions acquire a moral dimension (i.e. there is a transition from the belief that others will follow the established conventions to the belief that others sought to follow them), they become more evolutionarily stable and, in the end, function as the glue that allows society to be ordered and efficient albeit without any centralized, formal, hierarchy. In short, ‘spontaneous order’ emerges in the absence of authoritarian hierarchies. (Yanis Varoufakis)

While Elinor Ostrom demonstrated certain aspects of society work well when run by the community in a peer-to-peer fashion (outreach programs, clean-up efforts, mentoring programs, etc.) – others need more of a hierarchical arrangement. Larger societal groupings such as countries, states and even cities need set hierarchies to administer functions that a neighborhood community itself can’t provide … such as an airport, a mass transit system or a national defense system.

Hume also saw the need for this two-pronged civic governance. One of the basis of Hume’s philosophy was his interpretation of justice and classification of virtues; which he divided into natural and artificial.

In the Treatise, Hume emphasizes the distinction between the natural and artificial virtues. The natural virtues—being humane, kind and charitable—are character traits and patterns of behavior that human beings would exhibit in their natural condition, even if there were no social order. The artificial virtues— respecting people’s property rights, fidelity in keeping promises and contracts, and allegiance to government— are dispositions based on social practices and institutions that arise from conventions.

Hume believes that nature has supplied us with many motives—parental love, benevolence, and generosity—that make it possible for us to live together peacefully in small societies based on kinship relations. One of his important insights is that nature has not provided us with all the motives we need to live together peacefully in large societies. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Distilling down Hume into layman’s terms, we can extrapolate this dual system of justice (or governance) by creating a 2016 evolution of civic participation. His “natural virtues” can be managed via Ostrom’s view of the commons or the community. Only instead of public lands and common areas we should equate the “commons” to the well-being of the community and all the factors that contribute to it, such as physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health.

On the other side, we can look at Hume’s “artificial virtues” relating to those needing to be governed in a more traditional way via our system of hierarchical representative government, or at least a way we could envision it was designed to work, absent of our current state of dysfunctional ineptitude and “awfulness.”

orion-great-picture

“Orion” and hybrid civic participation.

“The opportunity today is in new relational forms that don’t mimic the governance models of industrial, hierarchical firms.” Esko Kilpi

Last fall my daughter and her partner Christina got a new cat. One of their previous two, Macy, ran away (and unfortunately whatever her fate might have been, we’ll never know). While Alex was in Montana visiting and picking me up for my annual California two month hiatus, Christina surprised her with a new kitten. Orion is a Bengal Cat.

A Bengal Cat is a domestic cat breed developed to evoke the feline denizens of the jungle such as leopardsocelots, margays and clouded leopards. Bengal Cats were developed by the selective breeding of domestic cats crossed then backcrossed and backcrossed once more with hybrids from the Asian leopard cat (ALC), Prionailurus bengalensis and domestic cat, with the goal of creating a confident, healthy and friendly cat with a highly contrasted and vividly marked coat. Wikipedia

Orion is highly active and highly intelligent. This makes him fun to live with, but he can sometimes be challenging. Orion is a confident, talkative, friendly cat who is always alert; in summary – he’s engaged. Nothing escapes his notice.

Metaphorically speaking, I couldn’t help but see the uncanny connection Orion has with David Hume’s solution to civic society. The domestic house cat side of him being our conventional hierarchical political system. No matter the flavor of democracy and competence, they all operate roughly the same in a traditional top-down fashion.  The responsiveness of the those elected will sometimes be better than others. In cat terms; it’s like him laying on the back of the couch as you read this with the computer on your lap. For the most part he just chills and lets you do your work.

But rather than just accept unresponsive dysfunction as a political given (or the lethargic behavior of you house cat), I urge us to strive for better and push our elected servants to a higher ideal. The ideal I envision is Transpartisanship thoroughly articulated by Michael Ostrolenk. Transpartisanship encompasses the idea that all systems are inextricably interconnected and that successful outcomes can best be reached through inclusive, genuine, and respectful cooperation. It can best be described as always searching for common ground, where – “There are no real enemies … only future allies.”

Transpartisanship acknowledges the validity of truths across a range of political perspectives and seeks to synthesize them into an inclusive, pragmatic whole beyond typical political dualities. In practice, transpartisan solutions emerge out of a new kind of public conversation that moves beyond polarization by applying proven methods of facilitated dialogue, deliberation and conflict resolution. In this way it is possible to achieve the ideal of a democratic republic by integrating the values of a democracy — freedom, equality, and a regard for the common good, with the values of a republic — order, responsibility and security. (Joseph McCormick)

Now for Orion’s wild side, the other side of the hybrid – the Asian Leopard Cat. I associate this wild side to the peer-to-peer community based civic society that Elinor Ostrom believed in and advocated for. Coincidentally, this is reminiscent of the nuances and structure of past reputation and trust based nomadic societies. This side of the Bengal is more likely to spend his days prowling the jungle hunting for prey, swimming in streams and climbing trees rather than lounging on the couch. You and your neighbors don’t have time to lounge around. You can’t wait for politicians to act. The things that affect you, have to be dealt with. Decisions have to be made; plans of action laid out – and these plans implemented.

A peer-to-peer system of civic organization takes work though, work not otherwise needed when we obey mindlessly like sheep. We must make special efforts to understand the concerns of our neighbors and fellow civic participants and collaborators. Empathy must be at the forefront of our discourse; and our “Middle Ring” must be what we lean on for support in absence of our traditional forms of government. Diversity and inclusion can’t just be “something we consider,” but a given.

Elinor Ostrom showed us that with an engaged populace an alternative is possible. She argued for diverse, democratic participation and ecological sustainability. This is a long way from the narrow assumptions of dichotomous mainstream economics. She used detailed research methods to show how we could do better; helping us to move away from an economy that is based on top down command, inequality and corporate control. She was a pragmatic radical; we can all learn from her lead and put her work to practice. Ideally governance of the community by the people through the Middle Ring and Front Porch gatherings (including both “natural” and “virtual” responsibilities) … will replace hierarchy in as many situations as operationally possible. Those that can’t must be governed by commonalities held accountable via cooperation. (derived from openDemocracy UK)

They say only experienced cat owners should own a Bengal. So should there be a similar warning when attempting a peer-to-peer system of civic governance. Only if you’re willing to be fully engaged, “get your hands dirty” and actually do the work … should you commit.

But if you are … join me in merging the metaphorical “wild cat” with our genetics of societal domestication to create a foundation of self-sustainability and active participation for the betterment of all members of our society. This hybrid – so aptly named Orion … is what Community 3.0 is all about.

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

“Will we let ourselves be pillaged?” Serena … circa 2015

This weekend I watched the newly released movie ‘Serena,’ directed by Susanne Bier and starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. The source material for the movie, the book ‘Serena,’ written by Ron Rash of Appalachia, takes place in North Carolina at the beginning of the great depression in the 1930s. ‘Serena’ is a riveting tale of greed and the obsession for power. The main characters are George and Serena Pemberton, husband and wife timber barons hell-bent on cutting down every tree in the country (and even in Brazil). And they will stop at nothing. It’s not so much about money as it is power … obsession with power to the point of being psychopathic.

Partially based on true events, a major sub plot included is the United States government wanting their land for a proposed national park. This park would eventually become The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. To counter this threat and accumulate more power, the Pemberton buy politicians, law enforcement officers and kill anyone remotely suspected not being on their side.

The tale is Shakespearian, specifically Macbeth – with Serena being Lady Macbeth, the driver in the relationship. She is the equal of any man in the mountains. Serena even travels with an eagle that hunts rattlesnakes. And the snake symbolizes the ruthlessness of their efforts and intentions.

Serena … revisisted

It’s now 2015 and it appears the Pembertons have risen from the dead. We need to look no further than last week’s Republican CPAC convention where as their slogan says, “Conservatism Starts Here.” In attempts to rally their ardent followers, 2016 GOP presidential candidates and other faithful spewed venom far and wide. Of course their primary targets were Obama and the democrats. But it didn’t stop there.

Scott Walker, one the GOP frontrunners, figuratively connected the peaceful protesters in his home state of Wisconsin to the murdering zealots of ISIS (even if he is backtracking a bit). This is Madison, Wisconsin – once considered a nest for progressive discourse during the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Not to be outdone, Phil Robertson, patriarch of the ‘Duck Dynasty’ reality television show, went so far to say AIDS was payback for the hippies ‘godless’ wanton behavior. And this is just the start of the twenty month mass media propaganda deluge disguised as the American 2016 presidential campaign. We can only imagine what the media has in store for us next. And neither political party is immune from nonsensical ideology.

No matter how these politicians are legitimized, they not leaders, they are addicts. Only their addiction is political power, influence and money rather than heroin, cocaine or alcohol. And their addictions are just as strong. But while substance addictions are mainly self-destructive, addictions of the former destroy others. And the others being us.

Serena

Being 2015, it’s not just our timber and landscape being ravished. Now it’s virtually everything. Down to basic tenants of the constitution this country was founded on, nothing is off-limits. Whether it’s ravenous multi-billionaires; tax-evading, oil spilling, “above the law” corporations; or even our own government … the resemblance to the Pembertons in ‘Serena’ is uncanny.

The Koch brothers, the godfathers of disgust (through their political front ‘Americans for Prosperity’), along with gluttonous corporations such as Exxon Mobile, Wal-Mart, Morgan Stanley, Monsanto and others – are the Pembertons of today. Their henchmen, rather than Rhys Ifans’s character Galloway in ‘Serena’ … are our beloved, paid-off, elected officials. And worse yet these ‘officials’ tell us their actions (or inactions) are good for us. After all, isn’t anything that produces ‘jobs’ what this country is all about – no matter how detrimental to society the by-product may be? You could literally substitute George Pemberton with Mitch McConnell or John Boehner as Bradley Cooper stands on his soap boxes cursing the alleged demons of environmental oversight and stewardship in front of a group indentured loggers.

My home state of Montana is on the front lines of this hideous mockery of popular grassroots sponsored legislation. ‘Americans for Prosperity’ operatives have practically set up cots on the capitol chamber floor in their “24/7” pursuit to ‘arm-wrench’ state legislators to assume control over federal lands so their daddies, the Koch brothers, can rape and pillage the Montana forests – Pemberton style.

The institutions created to serve us have turned on us. They have become nothing more than pawns of the perverse oligarchy in their ivory towers. And it will not get better. These institutions and the special interests that fill their pockets will not magically become enlightened … especially the government. The decisions they make only benefit themselves, and those that insure their political longevity … not us. And we are naive to think any different.

The recent superbug outbreak in the UCLA hospital in California has highlighted this fact. Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, the only microbiologist in Congress, has repeatedly warned of this type of phenomena happening. Yet thirty years of attempts at legislations curtailing the exorbitant use of antibiotics in our food supply have been stymied by the big-pharma lobbying money and the politicians they buy off. What will it take to break these unsavory ties … deaths piling up from routine cuts or trips to the doctor’s office?

The democracy created by Jefferson, Madison, Adams and Franklin is long dead and nothing more than a relic of the past. In the beginning politicians were leaders and were chosen to make decisions for the populus because they were more learned. Today I’m willing to bet that the people reading this piece are every bit as informed and learned as their supposed elected representatives, and a whole lot less narcissistic. And no mythical Phoenix will rise from the ashes in Washington or for that matter in any state house to change that.

The people can prevail however

But not all is lost. In the tale of Serena, the Pembertons and the evil they embodied are eventually toppled through the nobel efforts of the beleaguered workers of the Pemberton logging empire. We can do the same. But as long as we let these obscene institutions and their conspiring maniacal excuses for capitalists keep us dependent on them – they will win. And we will be nothing more than modern-day serfs. 

But we can recreate this country’s original participatory vision, a vision born from American compassion, ingenuity and self-reliance by the founding fathers and mothers of the United States. This is the vision that is other democracies wish to emulate … not the one we wake up to every morning staring at us in our morning newspaper.

To do this we must regain control of our communities and our neighborhoods, the footholds of our daily lives – where we spend our time. We must take back the streets where we live and work. We must take back our parks and create new ones. We must build our cities for us … not for an automobile culture designed to ferry people out of their neighborhoods to mass replicated Wall Street box stores.

And we must take responsibility for the preparedness of our young, the future of our country. We must resist the assumption that schools will be the all-encompassing answer (however well-intended they may be). As communities, we must provide the support and mentoring most often ignored. For it’s the young, when properly educated and emotionally adjusted, that will be our Davids in the face of Goliath.

There are signs of hope

We have reason to believe there is hope though. Just last week, the people through our relentless internet barrage of millions of comments, letters, tweets and posts – persuaded the FCC to keep the internet neutral. This was no small feat considering the millions of dollars cable companies and internet providers poured into Congress and the media. We will see if this decision holds up however. Goliath will not go easily into the night. 

Greec euro

Oversees, Greece elected a ‘people first’ administration to lead them in the fight against the oligarchy and the Euro bank overlords. While by no means is Greece’s war on austerity over – its Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have won initial concessions to stave off the wolves from the door. We’ll see how strong their door is and wish them luck.

Elsewhere in Europe, Spain braces for an election this year in which the Podemos party, originated in the aftermath of the 2011–12 Spanish protests, is gaining support fighting against inequality and corruption. It’s leader Pablo Iglesias, found his inspiration in the 2010 Occupy Wall Street movement.

But for every Tsipras and Iglesia there is a Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far right National Front party, stirring up the anti-immigrant ‘roll back time’ sentiment by riding the coat-tails of the reaction to Paris Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.

We must find the strength in our neighborhoods

Taking back our neighborhoods, our cities and our countries won’t be easy. We must shun the Wal-Marts, the Targets and rest of the Wall Street owned purveyors of consumerist conformity. We must treat them like the plague. We must do same to the McDonalds, the Taco Bells, the Popeyes and the plethora of other low quality chain junk food pushers. Our local restaurants, bars and stores are owned by our friends and neighbors. These are the places that give our communities, our little part of the world, its personality and individuality. And these are the places and people who are dependent on us for their survival. And we can’t let them die. Because if they do … a part of us dies too.

And our diligence is especially important. City governments and municipalities routinely hand over the keys to the city to outside corporate conglomerates in hopes they will be the proverbial “white knight, in the white hat on the white horse.” Seldom, if ever, does this work out though. Rural, suburban and even urban communities are littered with a plethora of stories of corporate subsidies pledged in return of promises of “jobs.” Oh that word “jobs;” it’s as intoxicating as the snake with the apple in the garden of Eden. But the apple and the snake … that didn’t work out either.

Capitalism, as like democracy, can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing. But it’s up to us to make sure it exists for the benefit of the community, the commons … not the few with unfettered public access via money. We have gotten complacent, assuming once an institution is put in place, it will forever work the way we idealistically believed – without any effort on our part. Like anything, capitalism and democracy need constant oversight and maintenance, no different from a car … or even yourself.

With the 2010 the United States Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision, democracy and in turn capitalism has come under frontal assault. It has opened the flood gates to corporate and “Pemberton” like money primarily designed to help irresponsible mega-corporations in their malignant metastization attacking our communities.

But remember it’s only money.

Unfortunately the embedded structural corruption in Washington and most state capitols prevent us from just “throwing out the bums” like in Europe. Our two-party only system virtually prohibits that. The bums are everywhere, regardless if their affiliation is Republican or Democrat. But as we found out, the people can en mass and reassert their power when sufficiently motivated. Well, it’s time to get motivated. We won’t be able to change the “Citizens United” decision, but we can change its effect.

Eventually we can starve these gluttonous behemoths until they wither from our communities and from our neighborhoods. And who knows, maybe they’ll even wither from our governments, giving us ones that serve us not the behemoths.

But most of all – we must ween ourselves from the illusion that government is on our side. We can do this by caring for each other instead. We can do this by sharing our possessions with our neighbors rather than looking at theirs with disdain and jealousy. We can do it by extending our hand (literally and figuratively) when we would normally … just walk by. And most of all we can do it by looking for opportunities to give … rather than for opportunities to receive. We all have it in us. 

We just need to let it come out.

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Note: To start, check out this wonderful organization run by my friends, LendOneHand.com.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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Creating “A Society Within Itself”

Updated: January 10, 2015

With the unprecedented level of government dysfunction in Washington D.C. and no hopes of any change in sight, everyone is trying to find a solution to our broken system. Much blame has been placed at the foot of the Republicans obstructionism, specifically the Tea Party movement led by Ted Cruz. However the Democrats and the president have not escaped the wrath either.

“How do we fix the government! How do we fix government so we can get back on with our lives! How do we fix government so we can get on with our lives and live like we’re supposed to in America. After all, aren’t we supposed to be exceptional? At least that’s what our politicians tell us.”

There are ideas on how to fix the dysfunction, or should I say just “awfulness” of Washington. Some want to take the Occupy movement’s lead and protest … like going back to the ’60s thing. It worked then (kind of), so it has to work now … right? Except it’s not working now. While Occupy’s message is wonderful, outside of making the word “occupy” part of our societal lexicon – it really hasn’t accomplished much. In fact, even that figurative accomplishment is fading. Nobody is occupying much of anything these days except hashtags. Raising awareness to issues like “income disparity” is great. But doesn’t this awareness need to evolve into results at some point? To date, it hasn’t. In fact the disparity between the 1% and the rest us has gotten worse since the Occupy movement moved in and set up camp on Wall Street in 2010.

The consensus seems to be that capitalism is the culprit. If the tyranny of the rich could just be broken and wealth was redistributed we could begin down the path of universal prosperity and wellbeing. Some of the ideas I’ve come across propose new variations of government – everything from straight participatory democracy, to communal tribalism. Some of them make sense. In fact some of them make a lot of sense. But they’re not going to happen. Aside from an exercise in synaptic gymnastics, pondering these governmental alternatives accomplish little or nothing. All of them involve the tearing down of the status quo. “We have to blow it up and start fresh.”

Occupy

The problem with “blowing something up” is that those who are getting blown up aren’t going to be too happy and probably will, as Dylan Thomas famously said, “… not go gentle into that good night!” Occupy Wall Street found this out the hard way. Even though they demonstrated peacefully; they were rousted, time and time again by Bloomberg’s RoboCop peacekeepers. Demonstrators all over the nation and for that fact the world have seen similar fates. Even the hope lit by the Arab Spring has done little than open the door for a even more ruthless regimes.

Those in the “ivory towers” like their ivory towers and don’t want anyone messing with them. And they will do whatever they deem necessary to retaliate. And it’s naive to believe any other frontal assault on the status quo will be met with anything less.

I agree that government needs an overall, and those in power should be packed up in their clown cars, with their soap boxes and a full tank of gas (cheap gas at that) and sent home to the hinterlands to pontificate in front of their fellow ideologues. And I agree that the corporations, in America and aboard, have way too say much say over what these clowns do and the effect it has on us. But thinking we can the change government, federal or state, and the relationship it has with lobbyists and their megalomaniacal clients is delusional in itself.

I’d say the central contradiction of capitalism — I say this in The Rise of the Creative Class, completely overlooked — is the attempt to impose top-down order, corporate direction, corporate control over the full flourishing of human creativity — this conflict between organization and creativity. ~ Richard Florida

But I think we’re all missing the point here. Capitalism isn’t the problem. It’s the misuse of capitalism that is. And we continue to fuel this misuse by our support (financially and psychologically) of the status quo. We continue to shop at Wal-Mart and Target and plethora of other box stores and corporate chains filling their coffers only to spent on politicians to gain even more influence who tailor legislation to have even more control over us. And then we continue to elect these same corrupt politicians. It’s a vicious cycle. But it’s one we can break. But it’s not by just “throwing out the bums and replacing them with new bums.”

Where is it said our wellbeing is dependent on a government and the absurdities of their decision-making. Where is it said that this “game” of politics,  played out on television and in the newspapers every day, has to hold the same addictive qualities as “crack?”

Have we lost our ability to band together and collaborate as communities, reestablishing the ‘Middle Ring’ of neighborhoods and be there for one another? Have we lost our sense of self-sufficiency? Instead of reliance corporate behemoths to fulfill our every need, can we not look locally to for the same? Can we not use capitalism as it should be used … through the vehicle of locally owned business; owned by our friends, our neighbors and even ourselves.

I understand government is needed. I don’t think we can live in anarchy. There is definitely a role it plays. But the question is – how much of role does it need to? Do we need it as the only resort? Does it have to be the only “safety net?” Should its importance take precedent over help gotten from family or from community?

I’m not a libertarian, or at least not full-fledged. I don’t propose drastically scaling government back by cutting taxes and services to austerity levels like Ted Cruz and the lunatic fringe. The government can keep on doing what the government does, doesn’t do, supposed do to or not supposed to do. I’m not interested in “blowing the whole thing up” and starting new.

“It is not necessary to tear down the old system … but rather to create a second system to which to flourish in.” ~ Nelson Mandela

I read an interesting piece on the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze deciphered the Hippie movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s in the United States. Contrary to popular perception, these “hippies” weren’t really trying to change the government. But rather they just wanted to start a separate society where they could co-exist with the status quo. Unfortunately their idea didn’t really take hold (except in a few isolated enclaves like Berkley or the Haight in San Francisco). Maybe it was their unconventional clothing, or their recreational drug use or their communal preferences. Or maybe it was these outliers were just … too different. And after all, aren’t we supposed to be leery of people who tread outside of the “bounds of conformity.”

But maybe things are changing. It’s obvious that the traditional institutions our parents and grandparents depended on are but skeletons of what they used to be. Political and institutional greed and self-interest have replaced the interest of the common folk (fast becoming the serfs).

My vision follows that of Nelson Mandela, “Create a society that flourishes within a larger society.” While not as extreme as the hippie movement, … I pull inspiration from it. A society’s economic wellbeing and the happiness of its occupants should not be dependent on its elected officials anymore more than our personal happiness should be dependent on others.

Now the question is, how do we build this new society, one that can function and flourish within the bounds of the greater one we see as grossly inadequate? And how do we build this new society by reestablishing the neighborhoods and communities that worked so effectively in the past, yet building them on a base firmly planted in the technological world we live in now?

That is exactly what we’re going to do.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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Are we ready for the Syrian “Cascade of Unintended Consequences”

When I started this post two weeks ago, President Obama had started his saber-rattling. Basha al-Assad of Syria had crossed Obama’s “red line” for allegedly using chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war. I say allegedly because the United Nations report is not yet in.

Since then we’ve seen an extensive public relations campaign by the administration attempting to rally the American people and Congress to back a plan of his to intervene in Syria militarily. He defines it as limited, or no “boots on the ground. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. And this duck look a hell of lot like a another war.

Then last week we saw a step back as Obama said he wouldn’t initiate action until he got Congress’s opinion. I say opinion because he still reserves the right to blow Syria to a seat next to Allah even without Congressional approval. In his nationally  televised speech Tuesday he night still showed his desire to enforce the “moral imperative” by flexing those muscles of American Exceptionalism. And nothing does that better than a few ‘Made in America’ cruise missiles. All this time Vladimir Putin of Russia, a valued trading partner of Syria, spewed his venom of dissent.

And then the events took a 180° turn. Putin suggested Syria just disarm themselves of its chemical weapons stockpile and turn it all over to the United Nations. Unbelievably … Assad agreed! In fact last night Assad expressed his interest in joining the U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention. I could get into why I think all this happened, but why. It did. The proverbial “fly on the wall’ … well, it wasn’t me.

Talks between the United States and Russia are currently under way in Geneva in hopes of hamming hammer out the details of this agreement. And we will have to see how they play out. And even if the United States ends up on the same page with Russia, or least on the same chapter … the devil will be in the details of the execution of the deal Russia brings to Syria. Will the all the chemical weapons Syria actually has be turned over? How do we know?  And we have the rebels Assad is fighting. They don’t want an agreement. They just want him out. There’s a lot bumps in the road here looking to throw this deal into the ditch.

As I said above, Obama has made it clear he reserves the right to use force  with or without Congressional or public approval. He feels he has the moral authority to do so. But one thing that is fact – one American administration after another, regardless Republican and Democrat, underestimate the effect of the Islam. Religious ties in this region, the Middle East, are a much stronger bond than nationality. And with these ties come allies including Iran and Hezbollah. It’s hard for our leaders to understand this mentality and apparently cross cultural empathy is not a requirement to be a western political leader.

Let’s say somewhere along the process, it all falls apart and the deal does go in the ditch. Since Obama feels it would be a sign weakness to back off his “red line” threat – and those Raytheon Tomahawk sortes begin their journey to the land of Damascus and beyond … what would happen next?

No amount of war games, scenario predictions or military pundits can predict the cascade of events that can occur.

Imagine:

October 12, 2013: The United States launches three sortes of Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets (deemed related to chemical weapons or military communications) at Damascus, Hama and Ar-Raqqah. The attacks are initially viewed to be successful. Full confirmation could take weeks however.

October 14, 2013: The Syrian Electronic Army wages their own war from, well … nobody really knows. They attack Exxon Mobil refineries in Libya, UAE and Nigeria – as well several American media companies, similar their actions against the New York Times and Fox News in previous months. The refineries go off-line.

October 15, 2013: Literally within hours of the SEA attacks, Hezbollah rebels physically attack these same facilities. And at two locations, they take over the entire refineries including taking hostages.

offshore rig fire

October 16, 2013: If that wasn’t enough, another group of Hezbollah combatants attacked and set ablaze two of offshore natural gas rigs in Qatar’s massive North Field.  Within 96 hours of the American cruise missile attack on Syria, 20% of the oil and gas flowing to western nations from the Gulf is no longer available.

October 18, 2013: Iran joins the party and threatens to block the Strait of Homuz, of which 40% of Gulf oil flows through. This causes Brent crude oil prices to rise to $200 a barrel.

November 1, 2013: Two weeks after the Iranian threat, unrealized but still a hovering specter,  gasoline prices in the United States rise $2.00 to a nearly $7.00 national average. For the first time in forty years Americans see rationing and gas lines. This is exasperated by the fact many stations already on the edge financially, just close their doors. The effects in other parts of the world are even worse where gas prices were already high. This ripple in other industries is also starting to be felt. Full-blown worldwide recession, if not depression – seems inevitable. Only this one will make 2008 seem like nothing but a road bump.

December 3, 2013: Out of nowhere, Assad and his “still in power government” rise up like a Phoenix and launch a full-scale attack targeting the rebels any and everywhere. There are rumours of more chemical weapon use. The United States responds by unleashing more cruise missiles, this time at more conventional military targets.

December 7, 2013: The conflict officially spills over into the United States. What started a month ago as just spirited rivalling protests between pro and anti Syrian factions … turn violent. In two cities with large  Syrian populations, Houston and Detroit – businesses and homes are burned, reminiscent of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1993. To make matter worse, as in Los Angeles, others that aren’t Syrian join in the mayhem. Vandalism and looting becomes rampant.

December 10, 2013: Russia boycotts US goods and imports, and enacts blanket travel restrictions – even for diplomats. The United States abandon their embassies.

December 15, 2013: As an early Christmas present to its elite athletes, the United States retaliates by announcing they will boycott the 2014 Russian Winter Olympics … again. Welcome to “Cold War – the Sequel.”

LA-riots

January 1, 2014: Threats of increased terrorist attacks force the cancellation of hundreds of New Years Eve celebrations around the United States and their allies, even Australia. The Department of Homeland Security declares a nationwide state of emergency and ratchets up “Big Brother” surveillance efforts on everyone. The National Guard is mobilized to control  the streets and enforce mandatory curfews in many cities. Uprisings are frequent and often deadly. The most unlikely bedfellows emerge as Tea Party extremist libertarians in rural areas band together with urban youth of all color and ethnicities. Both have a common enemy and are on the same side concerning Syrian intervention. That enemy is the United States government.

2014 and beyond:  ?

The above is just a scenario, but it’s a scenario probably every bit as plausible as anything the Obama and his merry band of hawks have thought of. It’s like they say about those vaunted economists predicting economy. Throwing darts at a dart board is every bit as accurate.

The problem with war is it’s unpredictable ~ especially in the Middle East. Things are never what they seem. You can never account for all the variables no matter how hard you try. It’s arrogant to think you can. And that’s been the problem with U.S. policy in the Middle East. It is based on arrogance.

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking there’s no way any of those countries in the Middle East are going to mess with the United States, especially after we tomahawked Syria. But then I’m guessing England felt pretty confident at the beginning of the American Revolution. Do you think Lyndon Johnson predicted Vietnam would turn out the way it did? Or the Soviet Union did when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979? Probably not. One can never underestimate their opponent, especially when they’re playing on their home field.

Add to that America’s low tolerance for adverse consequences. Just two days ago, we held another nationwide memorial service for the 9/11 attacks, which happened twelve years ago. While this was most definitely tragic, there are plenty of countries around the globe right now loosing every month more of their people than the 3,ooo we lost on that day. And what about the increase in terrorist activity that could happen here in the United States if we engaged Syria. Imagine if casualties are twice as much, or five times, or god forbid ten times. The distaste for war amongst the youth could result in a full-blown generational civil war.

While I don’t condone Assad’s actions, that doesn’t mean that we should just rush in. I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t believe we should just default to thinking we have the “moral authority” because we’re THE MAN, as John Kerry and Barak Obama appear to think: “The United States is Exceptional.” I can think of many things in the United States not exceptional that institutionally border on civil rights violations … all in the name of war. The government strips away constitutional rights in the name of the War against Terror. They decimate lives and communities all in the name of the War against Drugs. Where’s the moral authority there?

We just need to be prepared, prepared for the inevitable scenario that we can never predict.

Because with each action … there will always be “Unintended Consequences.”

Update: As of Saturday, September 14 – the United States and Russian reached an agreement on disarming Syria of their chemical weapons.

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google +

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Why the George Zimmerman trial wasn’t really about race or even George Zimmerman!

As we all know by now, George Zimmerman was quitted on all counts against him for the murder of Trayvon Martin. A jury of six of his peers (in theory), found that Zimmerman acted in self-defense under the conditions of Florida’s “Stand your ground” law.

Now if you’ve been watching television or read the major newspapers, you’d get the impression this case was all about race. While the anchors or columnists weren’t so blatant in their coverage, the pundits they paraded out made up for it. “George Zimmerman was racist and it was his disdain for black people who motivated him to gun down Tayvon. Plus the police didn’t handle the case right from the beginning because there was a black youth involved, and of course he was probably up to no good.”

Zimmerman_Trial

But then again we have to give the media a break. No matter if it was the Washington Post, CNN, ABC or MSNBC, we know they aren’t in the business of objective journalism, but rather have an agenda of “stirring the pot” for the sake of readership and ratings.

I disagree with the majority our vaunted Fourth Estate however. I think what we saw was the unfortunate aftermath of a “Perfect Storm.”

What we had in George Zimmerman was a wannabe cop. And I’m not saying that with negative connotations. It’s obvious he had a police mentality. Otherwise why would he been out there in the first place as the head of a neighborhood watch. It takes a certain personality, someone who’s probably looking at everything suspiciously, looking for something out-of-place. And in turn, wanting to engage (obviously).

And also we have the phenomena of the prejudice of “preconceived ideas.” We all have them. We look at a situation or a person through the filters of our own experiences. These experiences can come from real life, or they can just be result of the media’s depictions. It’s how we learn, it’s built into our DNA. After a first encounter with a Saber Toothed Tiger, cavemen learned not to mess with them … or least not without a spear in hand.

These “preconceptions” aren’t necessarily racist, or at least overtly. They’re more under the surface, most of the time due to lack of exposure to people who are different from them. It’s very difficult to look at someone totally objective, no matter how hard we try. Our experiences always sneak in, just like the caveman. Even Jesse Jackson once said if he was walking down the street coming up on three black youth, he would probably cross to the other side.

And this bias doesn’t have to be racial either. I remember driving through Wyoming with my daughter Alex. We were stopped at 7:00am by a highway patrol entirely because I had California licence plates. After asking for my ID and registration, his next question was: “Do you have any drugs or weapons in your car?” This elicited a “WHAT!” from Alex. Obviously his preconception was that all drivers from California were likely to have drugs or weapons on them, regardless if there was a five-year girl in the front seat. The only way I got out of completely emptying my car was to call my best friend Jerry who we’d spent the last three days with. Jerry also happened to be the airport manager in Cheyenne, the capitol of Wyoming.

The media said that Zimmerman probably didn’t even have any black friends. Again, probably not because he was racist, as much as he just hadn’t had enough personal encounters to feel comfortable around them.

Adding to the “Perfect Storm” is where is the incident took place. Florida is a relatively conservative state with a conservative legislature. Gun ownership is a valued right, as much as it is in the western states. In fact Florida has issued over a million concealed weapons permits, more than any other state. Guns, and especially ones hidden from sight, are a fact of life in Florida.

And then finally topping off the “Perfect Storm,” we have the Castle Law, or better known as “Stand-your-ground.” If you feel threatened and you have a gun … then go ahead and use it, no matter where the hell you are!

I suppose the Castle Law in itself isn’t so bad if you didn’t look at where it came from. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and its extreme right-wing agenda funded by the NRA and other less than desirable entities (with self-interests well in tow) have literally drafted the template bills for states to use verbatim. It’s in the NRA’s best interest to have more guns and Wal-Mart (a big backer of ALEC) to sell more guns. This self-defense paranoia also fuels anti-immigrant causes. Because as we all know, immigrants vote for Democrats, the arch-enemy of the NRA and ALEC.

So again what we have is the “Perfect Storm” of events and backdrop. And as a result, Trayvon Martin is dead for no real reason except being a victim of circumstances. And what the trial comes down to is whether George Zimmerman feared for his life.

If you look past the media sound bites … you’ll see he probably did. Should have he? Looking in hindsight, of course not! Trayvon was a 150 lb kid with a pack of Skittles and George Zimmerman outweighed him by almost hundred pounds. But you can’t ignore Zimmerman’s preconceptions, bias, and that he hadn’t the luxury of objective hindsight. You add this to his psychological state; knowing he should (in his mind) engage this young man, as well as if things went bad he had his weapon he could legally defend himself with … you have the “Perfect Storm.”

And all the jury had to do was empathize with him and agree he “feared for his life.”

So what can can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

You’re always going to have wannabe cops, looking at everything suspiciously and being the first to volunteer for their local neighborhood watch.

Can you change how people perceive others who are different from them? Probably not. Or as Bill Clinton said: “You can’t legislate morality.” Are you going to put the nation in a big room sequestered from all outside influences? Of course not. Ideally we can maybe try to get people out of their cocoons and venture out and experience other cultures and “people not like them.” Maybe.

It’s obvious that we’re not going to get rid of guns. If the Sandy Hook massacre can’t move the gun control meter, I don’t what can.

That brings us to the “Stand-your-ground” law. I’m afraid to say that any attempts to repeal it will involve a fight of biblical proportions against the NRA, its membership, and ALEC and it’s supporters especially the Koch Brothers. This would not be a fight for the faint of heart.

So what it comes down to is as long as you have the conditions that make up this “Perfect Storm,” it’s unlikely it’ll stop anytime soon, no matter what color the person being shot is … or the person doing the shooting. There will be another Trayvon, and another George Zimmerman … and another case, probably decided the same way.

It’s kind of  … “is what it is.”

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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