Friday, April 29, 2016

Overcoming Ethical Inertia

Dig Into a Big Bowl of Inertia!
Just the other day I made a hearty vegetable chili from black beans, corn kernels and kidney beans with a healthy helping of lightly braised onions, bell peppers and minced garlic thrown in for good measure. Additionally, I baked a delicious cornbread based on an easy recipe requiring no animal products.  I served the cornbread and chili to my extended family at our weekly get together. The curry spices I used were savory without too much heat as I know my family isn't terribly fond of spicy food.  Still, I was a bit anxious, because although I'm always hopeful that I can demonstrate vegan food can be quite awesome, I always seem to get some level of push back when I offer up humane cuisine at the dinner table.

Overall the meal was a success; however, at the mention of vegan chili two family members impulsively made the distinctive cringing yuck face stereotypical of a child being presented with broccoli (or chicken livers, as I used to do myself.) My initial emotional reaction to their disgust was mild offense, as I had invested time, care and resources into making something delicious that was scorned at the mere mention that meat and dairy free cuisine was being served.  My follow up thought was a bit more contemplative: what exactly is it that prevents individuals from rationally assessing the merits of a situation, be it of an entree, the environment or ethical justice?

For the most part, I believe inertia is the largest obstacle for otherwise good people to overcome in assessing the behaviors in their daily lives. Such inertia can further be broken down into subgroups: neurological inertia, cultural inertia, and physical inertia.

Neurological inertia reflects a state when our brains have become so accustomed or even addicted to a particular experience or expectation.  As I've discussed in Wake Up All You Zombies - Eat More Veggies, once a person has a decade long positive association with a substance or experience of any kind, it becomes difficult to consider the alternatives.  This mental barrier is a driving reason why smokers avoid thinking about long-term health implications, why omnivores avoid thinking about animal slaughter, and why intense video gamers avoid thinking about pursuing outdoor recreational activity.  In essence, our evolutionary brain states have an affinity for comfort that can shut down curiosity.

Cultural inertia in many ways is an extension of the neurological desire for comfort.  Since humans are social creatures we create and seek out niche circles with individuals that behave similarly to ourselves.  Community can be a very positive thing, however, if the culture of the group removes honest, rational feedback loops that consider the wider world we can end up with dysfunctional communities. Extreme examples include American gun culture, the war on drugs community and anti-LGBTQ advocates.  When a group seizes upon absolute positions and then disregards out of hand others in the local and world community, cultural inertia can thrive like cancer.  If we let it, such group mindthink can override personal integrity and mindful diligence which openly seeks better solutions.

Lastly, physical inertia, which overlaps both cultural and neurological inertia, underscores the challenge we face when confronting real world problems.  Very simply, it takes real, physical effort to make a change that progresses self, society and world.  Too often, one can find oneself handcuffed to a fools-gold job, chained to a lifestyle marketed by bottom-line corporations, and bound in relationships that have fallen into complacency.  Making progress means putting time and energy into contemplating prospective goodness, accepting and integrating constructive criticism, and then getting ones arse off the sofa to build the relationships, community and global change that will benefit the future world!

Serve that with a side of vegan cornbread and you just might find satisfaction in life!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Not So Free Market of Ideas

A world based on the free exchange of ideas ought to lead to ever improved outcomes, if only
because the best ideas out-compete inferior rivals.  The most fit and innovative ideas will have been discussed, refined, and then implemented in a mindful fashion toward world betterment. Whether addressing climate change, collective happiness, individual satisfaction, diverse species health, universe exploration, artistic creation or food supply economics, one would think the best ideas would rule the day.  So why, as a rule, don't they?
Cornucopia or Corruptopia?

A significant factor is that in reality legacy power schema control much of the idea landscape.   Which is to say, it's a jungle out there.  Weeds grow in an untended garden because if an established niche exists where an invasive species can thrive (given nutrients, temperature, space, et al) then it will!  Subsequently, the yield of the crop will suffer because grasses and dandelions subsume the productive biospace.  In the global environment, humans and their organizational constructs leverage all manner of technology, economy and brute force effort to shape the wild environment to their will, disregarding improved and more ethical ideas when localized personal gain flourishes.

Now a market of ideas can operate with some inherent ineffiency.  To be sure consumer demand can send out mixed signals as it contemplates the best ethical path to what communities and individuals need.  I suspect a truly free market that is regulated to account rationally for ethical values, limited resources and fairness has the potential to be positively productive for humanity and all of Earth's systems.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a huge propensity for people and organizations to game the system. Regulation loopholes, legacy subsidies, inherited resource privilege and behind-the-scenes manipulation are all at work the current "free market" system.  Such corrupting factors ought to have an effective self-correcting feedback loop. For-profit lobby inputs to the free market system seem more often than not to influence irrational decisions over rational, ethical, science-backed resolutions.

A truly fair system which accounts for real value of resources, value of humane treatment, value of fair trade, value of species, value of beauty, can begin to turn the table in the favor of progress.

Writing Goodness First articles for me has been my attempt to seed thoughtful ideas into the long-term ethical global system.  I profit only by the rush I feel when I see my ideas take seed and spread. Perhaps the effect is minuscule yet it is enough to know I sow a garden that could be bountiful if a large enough number of people mindfully champion a vision of greater goodness.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Let's Relate

Group Hug!
Positive human relationships are critical for humans to become wonderful individuals. Compassionate communities and an overall amazing, global civilization will surely follow directly from maximizing the goodness in our personal relationships.

As social animals human individuals thrive when a variety of relationships are woven into the tapestry of the human experience.  Though the impact varies worldwide, in modern times our global culture and economy seem to emphasize productivity at the cost of developing meaningful personal relationships.

At the core of the personal relationship enterprise is the relationship with ourself. Certainly, the ability to channel ones vision and efforts as an individual grows out of this self-focussed, caring relationship.  Whether spending time alone meditating, contemplating ideas internally or exploring with abandon the world by one self, the skill to self-reflect generates fuel for each of us to relate empathetically with others.

Personal relationships with other people can range from familial connections to romantic friendships to professional alliances.  Each relationship is uniquely flavored by numerous factors: the culture, age, beliefs, sex and circumstance of each individual, not to mention the number of people engaged in a multiple personal connection.  Communication in these relationships occurs along any of the myriad of mediums in this technological age, including the oldest medium of them all, face-to-face conversation.  The experiences we share in this manner forms the very building blocks of what is a meaningful human life.  Sadly, in this day and age, many are lucky to have a handful of people to call our closest friends in with whom we comfortably share our unfiltered self.

Large numbers of people may eschew new connections whether in the workplace or in our personal lives, either because our psychological disposition wants private time or, more negatively, because our densely scheduled lives have conditioned us to avoid them automatically.  And like any conditioning, it takes quite a bit of effort to transcend expectations that have coalesced over decades.

Building relationships with animals is one alternative humans have pursued in lieu of the more difficult path of developing human relationships.  Animals that are kept for affection and company provide in many cases a simple caring connection that replaces caring humans.  In our culture, owning a cuddly or colorful conscious creature for this purpose has often become the norm.  Perhaps we ought to consider reducing the numbers of these captive animals and focus more on pursuing human connections in our lives.

In this technological era even virtual entities are beginning to show up as a surrogates for real human relationships.  We can now have conversations with chatbots and interact with fictional characters in video games, and often the personalities of these characters are designed to be friendly and enchanting.  To a degree these real time interactive experiences are an extension of an imaginary friend phenomena.  Whether a fantasy friend, or the robust characters we've come to love from novels, television series and reality shows, humans seemingly spend more and more time with passive entities rather than real life counterparts.

Working to build better personal relationships doesn't necessarily require the total elimination of non-human surrogates from our lives.  In many cases these technological, imaginative creations can prime our psychological health.  Of course, that psychological health at the end of the day is proven by the healthy circle of human relationships each of us weaves into our lives.

In an ideal world everyone should have circles of friends and family and lovers that give them the support they need to thrive in this world.  Integrating positive relationship skill building into schools, community groups and family circles can help us get closer to that joyful place.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Generation Next

At the heart of planning for the future is human altruism.  Argue all you want whether altruism is inherent in evolutionary traits or whether it is inspired by soulful contemplation that transcends complex selfishness. Regardless, a healthier Earth seem likely only in a world where we humans sidestep our market force enhanced selfish desires.  Humans can leap beyond these individual and societal instincts if we reinforce behaviors that enhance the world environment for the benefit of far future generations, human and non-human alike.
Tower of Power

A planet that generates a sustainable, thriving landscape of quality experiences for all ought to be our primary goal.  As noted last week, there is no place for billions of humans that devour the landscape plague-like. Because humans have the ability to be so successful, and because human life is so highly valued, if left unchecked the Earth could become a sphere of human monoculture in the extreme.  Surely we want future generations of humans to have access to wild places complete with all the creatures we've shared Earth with from the start.

Passing a healthy Earth forward will take effort, to be sure.  Fortunately, humans seem to have mastered in spades the technology of passing knowledge forward to future generations.  With language, mathematics, ideas and all the mediums that transport them, every generation of humans can benefit from the lessons learned of the past.  Just as important, we need to share the ability and desire to continuously improve this knowledge-base and the desire to effectively implement it in society, the wilderness and the boundaries in between. 

Good legacy practice goes well beyond providing ever more versatile technologies and experiences to successive generations.  Integrating wisdom and positive relationships into the mindfulness of the children of man is paramount, and much tougher by far than teaching them the newest coding language or genetic process. Especially, since future positive relationships may diverge from the traditional nuclear family.  Gay marriage, polyamorous families, and asexual collectives may eventually provide more progressive, positive generation to generation interface than traditional culture has built to date.  Extended families and professional teachers and mentors are yet other examples of where low to no progeny generational relationships can devote energy to children all while curbing population growth.

The next generation has always been the primary purpose of the previous one, humans included.  Evolution has predisposed us to care a bit too much about the immediate, rather than the long term future. Transcending this genetic meme can be gradually overcome by cultural wisdom, nevertheless.  Working on a multigenerational vision for global benefits that will last for centuries to come, perhaps the most important thing we want to pass on to future generations is the very desire to dream far forward both selfishly
and selflessly.