Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bridging the Gap: American Exceptionalism vs Social Responsibility

Today in reading a review of Andrew J. Bacevich’s “Limits to Power: The End of American Exceptionalism” on the Daily Kos, The End of American Exceptionalism (What no President will Acknowledge), I was confronted again with my own personal conflict in bridging the gap between my desire for individual freedom and my need for being a responsible family or group member. Allowing the personal introspection to guide me in the political discovery process I’ve been pursuing (Finding my own Voice), I came to a more enlightened understanding of the purpose behind the system of checks and balances our founders built into the Constitution.

It's very basic: Individual freedom is a desired state of being which 'should' only be limited by social responsibility. Social responsibility necessarily limits the expression of individual freedom under certain conditions, the primary condition being the need for preserving the social good--the "common good” or “commonwealth".

All the ills being discussed in the book and in the review about America as a Power, and Presidents/Chief Executives, as Powers, originate in this one conflict.

Power can and will be misused in human systems. Individual, executive, imperial power will/can be used to dominate and control others for private advantage. At the same time, concerns for the good of the whole can suppress and smother individual freedom and excellence by giving undue focus to the need for preserving the social order, which results in bringing the full range of individual differences down to the lowest common denominator.

Both these purviews of power, are necessary for our survival--human survival--the survival of life on earth. Yes, Life.on.Earth! We need both individual excellence, the freedom to engage in self-actualization, and a self-discipline that engages us in remaining socially responsible in our endeavors. These two traits can be seen at play in the practices of competition and cooperation, of opportunism and altruism. Humans are the only species on earth who have the power of discernment and choice in carrying out the achievement of goals and the maintenance of resources--and who have the ability to misuse that power in such a way as to upset the balance of life on our planet.

When individual excellence/achievement/ambition, or imperial exceptionalism/dominance/avarice get out of hand, the social order, the living system of nature is put at risk of collapse.

On the other hand, when a repressive social order, such as that of Lenin and Stalin is over-built and forced onto the people--when all individual freedom and opportunity are squelched in lieu of the so-called good of the state (whole), then the 'living system' is also out of balance and at risk for stagnation.

It is the first imbalance mentioned here, (that of individual/national exceptionalism vs the survival of the whole/the planet), that plagues us today and is the premise of this discussion.

Systems growing out of balance become dysfunctional at greater degrees until they push past the "tipping point" and collapse into chaos and disorder. It's up for grabs then who or what controls the next form of order and rule--and the results of the collapse limit the conditions under which that new order is established.

We are presently seeing as a result of our American exceptionalism, the tipping point of global climate change and the limits of our global energy resources. We are seeing the limits of our debt-based economy, an economy that depends on an ever-expanding growth with an ever-increasing diminishment of our limited natural resources.

Take the "middle way", was the advice of Daedalus to his son, Icarus, upon gifting him with the wings he'd fashioned for him. Held together with wax, their efficacy would not be sustainable soaring at great heights (too near the heat of the Sun). Father cautioned son not to fly too high, but to go the "middle way" across the tumultuous waters or be at risk of falling into their grasp to be tossed and torn apart.

We all know Icarus, in his hubris, in his greedy desire for exceptionalism, did fly too high and so fell to his fate.

Aristotle, too, cautioned us that "the secret of happiness is in the moderation of all things." I'm thinking he meant a functioning system has checks and balances that allow it to run homeostatically. Alas, systems do wear out and lose energy--they fall into collapse and restructure themselves according to a new and more efficient and effective order, or else they come to the end of their niche in the whole. Unpredictable variables come into play during such a first order change as that.

We are in grave circumstances. We are presently embarking upon such a first order change—a major systems change. It may be that few of our established powers and principles will guide us through it. We are challenged to resolve this current dilemma and yet, so far, we founder in uncertainty. Perhaps this process will take us to the edge of our known reality, and require in our next step, an evolution in our knowledge and ability to govern ourselves sustainably. Talk about “one giant leap for mankind”!

Only a wise and benevolent leadership, and an awakened and educated citizenry can take the rudder and guide our ship of state, our planet earth through this maelstrom and into a sustainable future if, in fact, it is within our purview of power at all. At least now, in the environment of change we have installed in the recent electoral process, I have hope.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Netroots Nation 2008

Originally posted at Daily Kos 7-16-08

Update: Al Gore made a surprise visit, joining Nancy Pelosi onstage to an outburst of applause from the enthusiastic Netroots bloggers.

Thought I'd let you know I'm going to the Netroots Nation Convention (formerly Yearly Kos) in Austin Thursday-Sunday. I've been planning it for a long time and am really excited. There are a lot of great panels and discussions being offered and an opportunity for me to meet some of the people I've been blogging with for the last year. If you have any issues you'd like me to explore, write about, relate to the other bloggers or to some of the politicians who will be there (Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Wes Clark, Rick Noriega, and more), let me know. I've posted a link to the convention program below.

One big question for us all is what is the future for healthcare in our country considering the problems we are experiencing today both as providers, consumers, patients. I will be attending the Netroots Nation panel:

Emerging Trends in Healthcare Online Sat, 07/19/2008 - 1:30pm, Room 19 The conversational landscape of healthcare online has transformed rapidly. New tools and platforms are transforming the ability of a wide spectrum of parties including healthcare providers, patients, consumers, policymakers and experts to connect to talk about solutions to their healthcare challenges. Experts on the frontier will share the new healthcare trends and share their thoughts on the potential applications and implications for the future of American healthcare. PANELISTS: Josh Orton, Ezra Klein, Ash Damle, Melinda Gibson, Julia Eisman

As you know I am focused on the issues of Energy, Economy, and Environment and how they interrelate within a complex system. Through sharing ideas in the Blogosphere, Energize America was formed and we have begun to focus on developing renewable energies as a means of mitigating our current economic troubles. Doing so, we may prevent further environmental consequences of climate change, and prepare for peak oil (or promote oil independence, if you prefer). Energize America through Act Blue is supporting a group of renewable energy friendly candidates, several of which are here in Houston (this includes Rick Noriega for Senate and Michael Skelly for Congress. But I definitely don't want to leave out one to whom I give special kudos, California's Debbie Cook, a strong energy and environment candidate for Congress who is participating in the Netroots panel.

Update: Both Al Gore and Barack Obama voiced these sentiments loud and clear just days after this writing.

In addition, I am, being a "space brat", interested in the revival of NASA and the space program (link below). I was inspired as a child to dream of space exploration by my dad's active imagination and his encouragement of my reading science fiction like that of Arthur C. Clarke. When Sputnik was launched, he got us kids all stirred up to witness this monumental event, tuning in our fifties style floor-model radio to Sputnik's bleep-bleep sounds. At just the right moment he stampeded us out into the front yard to watch it cross our portion of the sky in Victoria, Texas. I will never forget the excitement. Later, when I was a college student, he and I formed an even closer bond working together on the Saturn moon project. He was in New Orleans where the booster was built and I was at the Mississippi Test Facility where it was tested. In writing about this experience at the Daily Kos, I connected with someone whose father worked at the 3rd facility in that project, the one at Huntsville, Alabama. He gave me the name "space brats", saying that's what his dad called the kids of those who worked on the Apollo project--those kids who had been inspired by the great adventure of space travel. Another poster recalled a film being produced in which us older boomers were dubbed as the "Orphans of Apollo" we were abandoned in our hopes and dreams due to a shift in political-economic will.

I see the possibility of reviving the economy and further developing renewable energies (especially solar energy) to replace expensive and declining oil resources by giving some juice to the space program. Once we develop a fossil fuel-free launch system (which is in the works), space travel can be fueled by capture of solar winds . Eventual colonization within our solar system may also mitigate overcrowding of our planet as our population continues to grow exponentially. The complication of declining resources, climate change, potential pandemics, etc. is likely to prompt a massive die-off during this century according to scenarios developed by Futurists. See below a description of the panel on the revitalization of NASA and the space program.

Netroots Agenda (all panels/discussions):

Panels I will be attending:
Energizing America Setting an Agenda for Progress Fri, 07/18/2008 - 9:00am, Room 12 Created, nurtured and developed in the Blogosphere, Energize America has developed innovative approaches to move forward toward a prosperous, climate-friendly society. EA2020 is working at the nexus of the blogosphere, citizen activism, local governance and Congress. This panel will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this effort, while setting out an agenda for progress. PANELISTS: Jerome Guillet, Mark Sumner, Mark Begich, Debbie Cook, A Siegel, Jeff Merkley.

Progressive NASA and Space Policy Under a New Administration Fri, 07/18/2008 - 3:00pm, Room 19 NASA is in crisis—overburdened, under-funded and inefficient. Yet the progressive legacy of space, which dates back to JFK, is being quietly reborn: NASA can reinvent itself as a critical resource in climate change mitigation; the UN and some in the U.S. military are collaborating to prevent space weapons from becoming an arms race with China; and progressive "NewSpace" entrepreneurs are creating new domestic high-tech jobs. Before 2009, a new progressive space policy needs to be devised and advocated beyond the traditional space constituencies, to upgrade Bush's failing space exploration vision. Who better to initiate this work than the Netroots? PANELISTS: Lori Garver, Chris Bowers, Patti Grace Smith, George Whitesides, Andrew Hoppins.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Psychological Resilience and Disaster Management

In facing future scenarios that involve:

*an increase in possibility of extreme weather and storms,
*a critically transforming climate,
*a money economy disrupted and threatening collapse,
*an energy economy based on declining supplies of oil and other non-renewable fuels,
*an observable diminishment of water and food resources,
*a threat of pandemic disease occurring in an ever destabilizing social environment,
*where the medical emergency establishment is understaffed--undercapitalized, unprepared, (
see )

*the possibilities of mass migrations in the first world countries mirror the horror in Darfur…. is important that we increase individual and community resilience so that we may better function when they become a reality (whether gradual or sudden).

Many government and community organizations are recognizing the need to improve disaster management following the devastation of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. Much has been written and discussed about this need , but there is much more to be accomplished in community crisis management than preparing for natural disasters, especially as we've known them to be in the past. In future scenarios associated with climate change, peak oil, and potential economic collapse, there are increasingly complex problems to consider. Richard Heinberg, author of “Peak Everything, Waking up to the Century of Declines” has suggested we must begin to build community resilience for facing these critical changes. His "Museletter" article, “Resilient Communities: A Guide to Disaster Management” is a call to arms in which he describes ways of building resilience at a local level . Others have begun such local grassroots efforts in communities around the world and information about them can be found at Transition Culture, where additional ideas can be found.

As a mental health professional, I must add that there is a need to increase individual and community resilience on the psychological and emotional level as well as on the physical. Critical Incident Stress Management (
CISM) is an established methodology for relieving symptoms of traumatic stress encountered during critical incidents and catastrophic situations. Stress management and debriefing are designed to increase individual and group resilience to trauma for those responding to emergency situations. This training is given to both mental health professionals and volunteer responders so that they may form a team which provides debriefing to those workers on duty at the scene. The interventions performed by the CISM team allow the responders to continue functioning both during the event and throughout its recovery period. The training naturally increases personal resilience for the CISM team members in such a way that their performance is enhanced when they are on active crisis response duty.

Psychological resilience training for the public in general as a preparation for dealing with disaster (both natural and other) would be greatly beneficial in decreasing the amount of traumatic stress people feel when facing critical future scenarios. Being prepared mentally and emotionally and having an emergency plan for different types of possible critical situations makes all the difference in the ability to control irrational panic responses that would further endanger them and their communities when clear thinking and quick action are necessary for survival.

I believe in considering these possible future scenarios it would serve us well to establish centers in our communities where the populace could be educated about these potential dangers and provided with reasonable and accurate information for preparation and planning. In these centers they could receive some training in
CISM so that they are prepared to facilitate crisis management in their homes and neighborhoods. Educating people about life-changing possibilities occurring in the near future without giving them information and skills for dealing with them creates a critical level of stress and only serves to activate the natural response of psychological denial. Offering scenarios that are overwhelmingly outside their ability to control or manage tends to shut down their natural ability to seek solutions and act on them. Providing stress management tools and skills enhances their sense of personal safety and resilience.

Other survival skills could be taught in these centers. Embracing home and farm economics as well as nursing skills and practices our grandparents (great-grandparents for some of you) knew well but which have been lost in the fast pace of modern (post-modern and beyond) life, would be both beneficial and stress relieving. Having this kind of knowledge and ability is, in itself, a way of increasing resilience to critical future scenarios, be they energy depletion, pandemic, storm, or “doomer” dystopia.

I have written diaries
here and here with my thoughts and suggestions as a mental health professional. The city of Houston actually has a mental health team for responding to disasters, but I would like to see them begin a program for public preparation.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Balm for Global Stress Syndrome

You guys may be beginning to know me as the shrink who has to work with herself about the global stress I feel when facing the inevitable consequences of climate change and energy/resource depletion. These effects will eventually force us into an unimaginable life style change if we don't begin to act now. I writhe in my own frustration knowing that we could minimize the coming meltdown by just joining together with others to envision a new way of living.

I wail in public places feeling the social shame of being seen as the stereotypical prophet of doom. I'm trying to raise the consciousness of those who don't immediately turn away from my audacious display of social impropriety. I have to beat my chest and cry out to what gods there may be just to activate and sustain my own hope for an acceptable future. Couldn't we at least attempt to insure the most positive outcome possible now that we are past the tipping point? This is my plea...

But then when I have to deal with all the lies and disinformation promulgated by those at the Heartland Institute and other hired hands of the cult-like climate change deniers, I tend to get swallowed up in that black hole A Siegel talks about in A Black Hole of Denial . Or at least I feel its giant sucking mouth if I languor in limbo around its event horizon for very long. (I want to reference also Denial-A-Palooza by desmogblog as both these diaries prompted this post.)

AAAruuugh! Phew!

You see what I mean? I get myself all worked up and have nowhere to go with it except into my own personal meltdown. So here's a little something to help me 'n' you to stamp out some of that angst and turn some of the helpless rage we feel into productive action! Even when we know we have no control over damning circumstances and may not even be able to save ourselves, we have to keep forging ahead and fighting the good fight. Right?

Stop Global Warming Cold from Yes! Magazine for Positive Futures


Shai Agassi's Electric Car Acid Test from Business Week (Feb. 4).

I highly recommend this Yes Magazine issue. It is upbeat, but not overly optimistic. No proselytizing of pollyana cure alls, it is a good representation of reasonable approaches made by people willing to get in there and get their hands dirty. People who are willing to do more than "talk the talk". Bill McKibben and others describe their climate solutions for a post-carbon world and report on their current activities towards implementing them. The Business Week story is just one that caught my eye in the chiropractor's office yesterday. Even though we haven't determined how we're going to get sustainable sources of electricity, the fact that this guy is actually getting somewhere in the manufacture of new electric cars and has a service plan to keep them conveniently recharged was inspiring to me.

And I need all the inspiration I can get--how about you?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

When a Tsunami of Truth Rises out of 'Peak Everything'... will wash over a populace in panic!

How may we even begin to prepare for the panic that will occur when mainstream awareness of our most likely future scenarios begins to dawn? On that day, I want to have something in place! I refer you to my previous post: “Peak (Everything?) Stress Syndrome” and to Peak Oil Blues (written by my new netroots colleague, the peak oil shrink), which will give you some background for making sense of this continued effort I'm making here, today. My intention is to bring more awareness and direction to these pressing needs by repeatedly giving voice to this topic in my writings.

My dream vision would be to set up a niche, a sanctuary for all of us who are having "peak everything stress syndrome". There are many folks out there suffering situational depression--symptoms of PTSD because of the "early" knowledge we have about the global crisis we are facing. By "early" knowledge, I mean we are advanced thinkers, we see ahead of the mainstream consciousness, and realize what the future will require of us. We reel from the shock and when we get on our feet and start speaking out and calling our mates, companions, and fellow humans to action, we are scorned and repudiated and stripped of our credibility. As we persist in disseminating our message--the "news" we have foreseen (the bad news no-one wants to hear), we are proclaimed to be "doomers" and exiled from our close social connections. The more we speak out about the "inconvenient truth" which now has piles and piles of hard evidence to support it, the more the conspiracy of silence builds the walls of denial stronger. (The monkey covers his eyes, his ears, his mouth--don't see, don't ask, don't tell!)

This is a form of killing the messenger--making him believe he is the crazy one. Then the messenger becomes swamped in his own anger, depression, self pity, and desire to retaliate. This only deactivates him and sabotages his ability to accomplish the original goal. That goal is to warn: to call his colleagues into action, plan a strategy, prevent the worst case scenario, provide safety in the storm to come. I think this is what many have been going through--and I have been through it myself. But it's time to snap out of it, regroup our energies, and direct them in a productive and self-regenerating way, one that is sustainable and has no hidden agendas.

What I have thought about doing locally (here in Houston), is to enjoin a group of people, including our mayor's department of sustainability, to consider supporting a foundational fund and effort for building an eco-center which would contain information, classes, not only on sustainability, but on mental health and the emotional mastery of change. (Mayor Bill White, a friend of green construction and a candidate for the 2006 World Mayor Award, was an attendee and supporter at the recent Peak Oil Conference in Houston.)

Maybe the establishment of this effort could best be explained if placed in coordination with a "heritage days" celebration, so as not to scare people or incite resistance. Classes such as cooking, food preserving, spinning, weaving, mechanics, and gardening with hand tools could be offered--classes in which skills in living primitively on the land, living locally, could be taught. Perhaps the reasoning could be presented as how “our heritage from the past can meet the needs of our future”.

This eco-center could be a central source, an enclave, for storing information and local resources on providers of green design (architects savvy on LEEDS standards), on green builders, and on suppliers of green technology. Maybe the center itself could be a zero-energy design (one that supplies its own energy through wind and solar means, reusing water, etc.) It could be, in itself, a model for community building. This center could contain a database of current information on renewable energy technology and information about climate change and peak oil future scenarios. Films and videos could be made describing these conditions and possible outcomes.

This beginning would lay the foundation for the mental health support that will be needed when awareness of "peak everything" reaches a notable level in the public consciousness. Then we will be teaching about change, signs of stress--situational depression and anxiety and the skills for dealing with it. At the time it’s most needed, the center will be established and already known as a place to go for of information and support. I can imagine that the foundation's funding could come through the use of an alternative/complementary currency such as Ithaca dollars, Time dollars, or other database currency points that become accepted for use in the larger community as Bernard Lietaer has suggested in the Future of Money.

Another thing I would like to do through this center is to begin, with a group of others, to envision a possible future beyond what we know is inevitable—a livable and sustainable future in which we would like to live. I would like to instill hope (beyond the depressing reality we are facing) that we can still carve out a niche of safety, sanity, beauty, and order—and some form of green mobility. I know we can't count on technological innovation to save us from the power-down energy crunch and from the relocations and massive migrations to come with climate change, from the scarcity of resources and the potential for resource wars/competition--from the future pandemic of death and diminishment of our population. We who are in the know realize there is no place to hide. We don't have mega-bucks to buy an energy efficient fortress guarded by Blackwater troops.

But we have to believe we have some power to save ourselves, to create something worthwhile that will help motivate us to go forward! Accomplishing this will require a positive vision and good leadership. I like to think of our future as being healthy, happy, green, and mobile, and I believe that with as many enthusiastic people as I've run into on the Daily Kos (environmental group) and in other areas of the netroots, we can, together, come up with a plan and course of action to build the future we want, in spite of our government and its economy. It just requires taking our way of life into our own hands, designing our own local economies and fortifying them with some kind of god-juice that will protect them from the madding crowds--the throngs of those who didn't do their planning.

And so I come back around now to the original point: that we must continue to disseminate accurate information so that all people will be adequately forewarned and forearmed. This information must be presented in such a way as to avoid panic and predation. Once we do this for ourselves in our local communities in the US, we need to try to facilitate this same kind of activity in other countries--China, India, Africa, Mexico...etc. The Netroots has a basis for building these connective threads between our communities here in America and out into our global community—our Mother Earth! I’m thinking of calling this center MotherSource! What do you think?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Peak (Everything?) Stress Syndrome

As a psychotherapist in private practice, and as a stakeholder in the larger human community, I am participating in some upcoming training offered by the International Critical Stress Foundation on "Changing Perspectives on Disaster" and "Group Crisis Intervention". I am sure the community-at-large will need my skills to weather the upcoming storm arising from the combination of climate change, energy depletion, population glut, and economic disruption (what I'm calling the "Peak (Everything?) Stress Syndrome"). As individual and public awareness dawns (by degree or by cataclysmic proportions), we'll see varying effects on people of differing age and socio-economic status. The ensuing crisis will require debriefing and crisis management.

I've been onto this for a while now, myself, reading and researching all I can get my hands on and I’ve had my own personal-emotional process going on around it. (I’ve been aware these times were coming since the sixties, but how easy it is to live in denial of what is yet invisible and unfelt!) Nine-eleven was bad. But Hurricane Katrina’s massive impact, both nationally and personally (my family suffered loss of their homes and personal property), and the crazed disorder here in Houston during the Hurricane Rita scare was a further clue in my personal experience that we are living in new and unprecedented times.

Then when I began to absorb all the information and research about climate change and peak oil, and about our failing economy, I really became overloaded! I became aware that all of this was affecting me and the more knowledgeable of my boomer cohorts in a most personal and oppressive way. Just as we were beginning to make that passage into our "elder" years, those which normally signify decline and eventual death, these very same characteristics of decline in energy, decrease in wealth, loss of mobility, loss of physical and financial security were being out-pictured to us in the world at large. Suddenly, as we begin preparation and adjustment to our retirement years, the vitality of our economy, along with our retirement finances, and the vitality of the earth and humanity in general are found to be critically at risk.

I've come to my own stage of dealing with it -- planning for my own altered future, making what moves I can to prepare for these inevitable changes, trying to prepare my own family, my adult children. I think about how I can help others. I will continue to do my writing, because community action is difficult until more people become aware. The adjustment to awareness is better when it is paced, of course, and when it is addressed in a supportive environment (i.e. you are not alone in your "new" knowledge of the danger ahead). I know I'm not alone because there are so many groups of knowledgeable people “out there” equipped with the facts who have undergone this process themselves. There are many websites on the internet (some based here in Houston--The Oil Drum and Houston After Oil, to name two.) I join with those knowledgeable in the netroots (young and old) by blogging my heart out on the subject.

A dawning awareness in the mainstream is definitely indicated when one can find a website on “peak oil blues” created by a psychotherapist who is offering support. On
Peak Oil Blues people are sharing their personal stories of “first contact” with this information and reporting on their corresponding psychological and emotional effects. The online psychotherapist gives her own personal commentary about the experience, answering the queries of those who write. Another most recent indication that the mainstream media is beginning to be activated is found in Texas Monthly’s latest issue. The Future is its theme and a number of articles acknowledge the critical conditions ahead.

Anyway, I am intently aware of the need and I hope the training sessions I've chosen to take with the Critical Stress Foundation can be made applicable to the impending community crises I foresee. I believe we need an ongoing multi-faceted program in each locality for dealing with the associated social/psychological unrest arising from these complex and interwoven change conditions as they steadily and catastrophically affect us on all levels: physically, socially, psychologically and emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Jute Mill Song

And the Fed's rate cut helps this, how?

The Jute Mill Song
(Mary Brookbank)

O, dear me, the mill is running fast
And we poor shifters canna get nae rest
Shifting bobbins coarse and fine
They fairly make you work for your ten and nine
O, dear me, I wish this day were done
Running up and doon the Pass is nae fun
Shiftin', piecin', spinning warp, weft and twine
To feed and clothe ma bairnies offa ten and nine
O, dear me, the world is ill-divided
Them that works the hardest are the least provided
But I maun bide contented, dark days or fine
There's no much pleasure living offa ten and nine.

Listen to the song: