Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

When Europeans got scared

September 5th, 2013

Halossa’s comment surprised me.

We had just been introduced by my friend, Mahmoud. In response to Halossa’s question about how Mahmoud had met me, an American in Belgium, I was explaining that Fulbright Fellows are encouraged to learn the local language, which is how I wound up in the Nederlands class where I met Mahmoud and other foreigners in Antwerp. “When was that?” Halossa asked.
hall illusion

“For about ten months in 2008 and 2009.”

“That was the end of the Golden Time here.”

“What do you mean?”

“They got scared.”

Halossa went on to explain changes in the economy and a rise in prejudice that made life as an immigrant in Belgium more difficult. I remembered when fear had swirled through an elite group of European citizens and privileged guests at an international networking event on June 15, 2009. In a blog entry that I wrote the following day, I described it like this:

The first question directed to last night’s speaker at Frank’s International Soiree had to do with survival, the second with definition. Suddenly we were immersed in the midst of a dialogic surge with all the characteristics of the storming stage in group development…[the second question was] a sharp challenge about whether the concept of sustainability, in the speaker’s usage, was limited to the environment or could include things like language and culture… tension rose in the room…Suddenly we were arguing about what could be included in the concept of sustainability (e.g., economics) and what should be excluded (the Irish language was given as an example).

I wondered, at the time, if this was an early indicator of the build to critical mass of public realization of climate change, noting that “scientists’ concerns continue to increase as policy makers miss crucial deadlines for changing policies and big business delays implementing serious structural reforms.”

Intersections and Interconnections

Today, in re-reading that old blog entry (optimistically titled “a new attitude?”), I am struck by the fact that I am still saying the same things about how to navigate, collectively, through crisis. The evidence of repetition, of still saying the same things, was made especially clear when re-watching a video made by my girlfriend in 1988-a year of monumental personal change (not only for me, it was a transitional year in American history for gay and lesbian rights). At the inaugural Gay And Lesbian Awareness (GALA) picnic at Southmoreland Park in Kansas City (MO), I had already made similar assertions, exhorting that we are presented with a tremendous opportunity if we could just take it and make change happen!

If we could defy impossible...

Written on the Community Board at TEDxKC, August 20, 2013, in response to a prompt about defying the impossible.

On the one hand, the pattern of repetition is discouraging – it suggests that there isn’t much hope for deep individual change, let alone societal change. On the other hand, the pattern is encouraging – it indicates deep capacity for resilience.

The guys at Halossa’s Cafe Eskendreya in Antwerp impressed me with the casual comfort they provided to each other while agonizing over events in Egypt. While my more highly educated friends had seemed to unequivocally support the overthrow of Morsi, these guys offered intriguing nuance in their analysis. “I’m not a Morsi guy, but he was doing the things the revolution wanted,” explained Mahmoud, specifying that “He made mistakes, he talked only about his party and not everybody.” But Mahmoud also believed there was significant evidence that Morsi had kept police brutality down and was enacting other reforms in keeping with the original uprising and his democratic election. “Now, it’s the same old guys back.” Mahmoud’s frustration was palpable.

I keep puzzling: Why and how do we–the masses of people–keep allowing ourselves to be outmaneuvered?

Violence and the Threat of Violence

pattern cutoffTwo weeks I watched The Butler. Twice. Its depiction of the 1963 lunch-counter sit-ins that began to turn the tide of civil rights in the United States is astonishing. People endured that. Human beings today are still willing to suffer the cost of nonviolent civil disobedience. In the US we’ve seen it in the Occupy movement and the protests to stop fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline. A recent survey from Yale reports:

One in eight people (13%) say they would be willing to personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience against corporate or government activities that make global warming worse” but also shows that few of us are talking about this with our family and friends.

Why aren’t we talking about our willingness to try and save the planet with the people we love most?

I cannot speak for everyone, only for myself and only about what I have observed and been able to consciously process. Fear seems to be at the root of the absence of intelligent public problem-solving about climate shift. It could be that white people (especially) and privileged people (generally) are wimps. I confess that I am not eager to be in pain. Nonetheless, I recently wrote an aggressive guest editorial for Guy McPherson at Nature Bats Last challenging whiteness in the Doomer movement. Guy and commenters at his blog skewered me. One of his readers (I assume) made a passive aggressive comment to a blog entry of mine here at reflexivity.

Meanwhile, some people are talking about their emotional process of coming to terms with near term human extinction (NTHE) in closed and private groups on Facebook. I have asked for permission to quote some of the things being said in these groups (and others) – and will ask again.

Defy Impossible: Embrace the Shake

Embodiment of Influence, see

Embodiment of Influence, see

Three weeks ago I was lucky to be invited to attend the live performance of TEDxKC. Phil Hanson shows how “embracing limitation can drive creativity.” It seems to me that one reason more people are not talking about climate shift is because of a failure (to date) to accurately and precisely name the limitation: we’re going to lose the atmosphere. Without naming this definitive and exacting boundary, it is impossible to respond creatively on a scale adequate to the challenge. Another reason why people may not be talking more openly about facing the extreme crisis of climate shift is because we know that we currently lack mechanisms for fair decision-making and effective implementation. Harnessing communication technologies in ways that support and enhance relocalization could help to address this problem.

Today, more than twenty-five years after 1988 (which I now describe as The Year I Woke Up), there are many people in mind as I write this blog entry. The diversity is astonishing to me: friends, colleagues and acquaintances from more diverse backgrounds than I know how to represent. Unquantifiable, you are! Does having you “in mind” mean anything? Not necessarily. And yet . . . the idealistic realist in me discerns that chance encounters characterized by some sense of connection can accrue to mean something, to signify an historical dynamic of relatedness (intersections) that could be evidence of participation in social forces (interconnections) that can effect the future.

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