Friday, November 27, 2009

Social Karma (third of a three part series on karma)

At Shift Happens, a couple weeks ago, an audience member asked Emanuel Kuntzelman what he thought of social karma. The answer provided some food for thought because the audience member and Kuntzelman had two different definitions of social karma.

The audience member defined social karma similar to my extrapolation about individual people's karma with our interdependent web of existence. International corporations and governments will grow unchecked, destroy the environment and dictate our social experiences for the sum of a downward turn on the scale of karma. Failure to act leads to bad karma, and contributing to the good through action is the only way to create good karma. Makes sense to call this phenomena 'social karma,' as it affects networks and requires action upon and within networks to correct.

Kuntzelman provided a novel definition of social karma. Instead of karma referring to collective cause and effect in the interdependent web of existence, Kuntzelman defines social karma as our individual socioeconomic inheritance.

White, black, asian, Native American. American, European, Russian, African, Australian, Brazillian. Your birth in a country, state, county, town, parish, nation or wherever. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist or whatever religion. Upper class, middle class, lower class. Freeman, slave.

Social karma, to Kuntzelman, are the physical characteristics we're born with and the behaviors and bearings we learn in our families and communities that determine how we are treated and are allowed to treat other people. Social karma affects the opportunities in our lives, the type of childhood we have and possibly, on the negative side, the challenges and limitations thrust upon us by the people, communities, social networks and society around us.

This use of social karma provides a good term to boil down the fact that social norms, prejudices, traditions, practices, laws and other social factors influence our expectations of how others should treat us and how we should treat other people.

The term doesn't necessarily provide us with any practical tool to directly affect the world or to provide further wisdom in any direct way. Rather, it bares open to us the advantages and disadvantages we experience in our everyday social experience that we wouldn't normally see on our own.

How often do we question things that we take for granted, especially when tainted with extreme happiness or extreme anger about our situation? Why blame the social system when we can pinpoint individuals that bring us pleasure or cause us pain? We all register pain and pleasure on such subjective levels that even the smallest gesture or injury can cause some of the most extreme reactions.

Since we all have social karma, however, we have all been influenced by the social dynamics in existence, by all the networks in which we mingle, from family to work to friends to school cliques to political groups to religious associations to even the varied histories we've inherited. Unless we become conscious of our social karma, it will continue determining our behavior as our social networks direct us on what feels like a natural path, from one semi-determined network to the next semi-determined network.

Frankly, after the barest research on Wikipedia, I think the word dharma from the same cultural and religious tradition as karma addresses these matters of social and cultural determination. Dharma creates an issue, though. Dharma, I believe, espouses that it is a virtue to follow these determined paths and not break out them. Doing so would cause chaos in society. No one wants an unstable, changing society, do they?

For someone who wants to change the current progress of society, using dharma as a vocabulary word might be counterproductive unless they can sell people on the term ‘dharma’ without following the determined path as virtuous part. Using social karma as a term to address subversive dharma could end up being more productive. In the end, it comes down to the dynamic between the producer/performer of transformation and the audience of transformation.

I would consider myself between producer and audience. Even though encouraging positive transformation feels good to me, I want to come up with a compelling argument for the transformation I feel good about.

Dharma and social karma will help me figure out a good rationale for my desired transformation. In the end, though, they simply provide linguistic tools to understand the social and cultural constructed status symbols that we use, surrounding ourselves with tools for protection and negotiation.

How could dharma and social karma be used by you and other people to help improve the world?

Links of Interest: Emanuel Kuntzelman, dharma

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Criticism of Self-Help Karma

The way that I understand how everyday American self help adherents understand karma bugs me.

The first part of the definition of karma with this crowd probably coincides well with the original ideas of karma. Something to the effect of "what goes around, comes around" or "what you put out, comes back."

I see a divergence, however, from my understanding of the spirit of karma after that point. More often than not, the everyday self-help crowd will take a passive approach. Karma comes to them as a coping technique, to make the day-to-day toil bearable rather than as a tool for improving the world.

This self-help crowd inteprets karma as non-contribution to evil equalling good karma. My issues arises when they also willfully ignore contributing to the good. In our interdependent, complicated world, ignoring the cause of good contributes and furthers the cause of evil.

I'll be the first to admit that if you simply treat the people around you well, you will likely have pleasant interactions with those very same people. Even better, your positive attitude will likely rub off on them, bettering their mood and encouraging them to treat other people well.

That infectious pleasant meme can go as far as the network extends depending on the willingness of everyone in said network. Some people just have negative dispositions and resist positivity.

We also all mingle within multiple networks throughout our days. Every person sits in the position of a hub between two or more networks. The two networks could even just be a family or work/educational network (or a friendship network).

Only the most "pathological" anti-social would try to cut themselves out of any network. Even then, despite our mechanized world, the anti-social has to interact with others at some point, even if through chat, text or e-mail. The anti-social has some kind of network, despite how formalized and minimal they make it. Even purchasing, selling and receiving services counts as social interaction.

By virtue of their interaction in a network, the anti-social have some kind of affect on the people around them. Non-interaction is still interaction.

Through the intersections of people as social network hubs, a super-positive karmic meme could even clash with an anti-social's negative karmic meme from their non-interactive karmic network. The anti-social can disperse that positivity into negativity.

I have only used simplistic reductionary reasoning so far (something I usually try to avoid espousing or spectating) to illustrate the impact of karmic degrees of separation impacting each other through non-interaction.

More sophisticated reasoning that takes into account the reality of the world reveals phenomena much more disturbing.

Non-interactive karma memes also relate to the passive self-help crowd. Corporations, especially international mega-corporations, and governments have, when not active, non-interactive relations with everyone and everything in our world. They all have impact on the health of our societies and environment.

[I consider the economy as part of the social sphere since it's essentially a psychosocial construct that affects how people relate to each other based on beliefs about material, mental and behavioral possessions. The attempt at making an objective science for economy, despite its correctness in many cases, relies on assumptive cognitive bias. Some examples of these assumptive cognitive biases are: people make rational political economic decisions or that people can be manipulated through marketing.]

Back in college, I had this romantic image of the noble savage or a tribe of them on an island or some kind of lush outback. It’s their island or lush outback, not anyone else’s. They don’t have to let anyone else on their island or into their lush outback. These noble savages can stay pure and not have their society and cultures altered.

Then I remembered how the Europeans came to America and slaughtered and enslaved tons of Indians.

Despite Africans being party to it, the demand for slaves by the European powers certainly encouraged the enslavement and shipping of many native Africans.

China’s invasion of Tibet.

Hitler decimating most of Europe after the European powers tried to appease him with Poland. Russia took Eastern Europe. And even before that, Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great left their marks on the world.

Changes to the noble savage don’t have to originate from outright violent conquerors. These days, China’s demand for oil has jacked up the cost at the gas pump and to heat our homes in the United States. China’s desire for development has encouraged the influx of jellyfish in the waters between China and Japan.

9/11. From whatever side of the political spectrum you come from, you can probably think of some way that negligence either didn’t stop it from happening or encouraged it to happen. Whether the US government didn’t pay attention to the signs that it would likely happen or the US government and corporate interests alienated enough Middle Easterners to make them angry enough to blow up stuff, fault can still be pinned.

The manipulation doesn’t even have to be that direct or violent. Someone in a land of noble savages gets greedy. Maybe they just decide that the land is theirs, as a lone individual, not the rest of the country’s, simply by virtue that they say it is theirs. The “owner” sells or leases the land out to corporations or possibly even governments. Natives get kicked off their land to develop the land. The people of the county lose their freedom and become slum dwellers because they have nowhere else to go.

Or who knows, maybe the owner of the land might have the enlightened good sense to use the money they’ve gotten to culturally enrich the once noble savages. Fat chance of that happening, though. Hard to think of a land stealer being altruistic enough to give proceeds back to the people they stole from.

Even in more legitimate situations: the clothes that we buy fund these corporate take overs of third world countries. Maybe before the corporations arrived there, people didn’t have much free time to get bored, lie around or possibly culturally enrich themselves. Maybe they had to deal with serious but preventable disease and the more primal issues of getting food, securing themselves against nature, finding warmth and so on.

But there’s a certain degree of meaning that comes from facing off against the elements and surviving. At the very least, keeping busy trying to stay alive helps to fend off those feelings of alienation that we hope to address by buying stuff, watching TV, getting involved in pop culture, drugs, alcohol, sex and all the “addictions” of modern life. Sure, people in the modern world may live longer, but they’re also more susceptible to diabetes, cancers, cholesterol and blood pressure issues. . .and I’ve got one thing to say: Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

As we pull ourselves out of nature, becoming evermore mechanized and leisurely (at least, for the people who can afford it), the more we become susceptible to diseases, syndromes and neuroses of affluent leisure. Whereas the noble savage gets exercise through labor everyday and sees exercise as tedious, modern humanity doesn’t get enough exercise and makes it a leisure activity to hopefully encourage health and demonstrate their superiority.

While modern humanity progresses further down this leisure path, we enable our corporations and governments to bait other cultures down the same path. It doesn’t necessarily become a choice, though. Once ownership and an industrial economy enters a society, providing sweatshop labor to natives as a way out of poverty becomes a moral argument to the neoliberal or neoconservatism.

The money we spend on cheap goods, in ways that don’t seem to affect other people, enables these corporations and governments to enter into these non-modern cultures and modernize and industrialize them.

I’ve only highlighted the social degradation that can occur through non-interactive non-involvement. People love debating whether climate change is occurring. We don’t even have to go there to show the environmental damage caused by our corporations.

Rainforests get cut down without a thought to make paper and rubber products. Even for our modern world, there go great resources for developing medicines as clear cutting cause species to go extinct.

Monoculture destroys the fertility of soil. Crop rotation helps to keep soil healthy. Corporations love monoculture and keeping things on as simple of a system as possible. Even in the US, factory farms and ranches produce tons of meat and biomass for food and other products. To generate the most product efficiently in the case of beef, though, e coli is cultured into a virulent strain that can easily kill a human being if exposed to it.

The city of Los Angeles is trying to return to its native desert habitat. Chicago is trying to bring back the prairie. The process includes generating controlled fires.

Cities are following a trend of returning to the original environment, but I feel the impetus for this trend comes from the realization that the all the different parts of the environment evolved for a reason: it works within a balance. Look at what happened when the people of New Orleans built on the water and hurricanes struck.

Now I’m kind of wondering about the Back Bay area of Boston. It used to be a Bay until they made it land with landfill. Will that area always remain stable? Will Boston face some consequence from human ingenuity and hubris?

Just by being part of the United States economy on an unconscious level, someone will contribute to the degradation of cultures, the environment and the everyday lives of people. Low prices come at a cost: either from taxpayers sponsoring subsidies, the plundering of vast supplies of resources that will likely disappear or at the cost of human dignity, freedom and sense of meaning.

Non-interaction does not mean abstaining from contributions to evil or remaining neutral. Through non-interaction on an everyday level, we put out evil through complacency. At some point, that evil will come back to haunt us. . .or maybe not us, but our children.

I don’t see the shortsighted everyday self-help adherents taking these details into account when they think of karma. They should, they really should.

UPDATE: Recent article about finding vaccines in the Amazon and some politics that go into it.

Links of Interest: karma, noble savage, meme

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Shift Happens

Wednesday night last week, Greenheart put on an event called Shift Happens at the Chicago Center of Performing Arts at 777 N Green Street. The main draw for the event was a lecture by Emanuel Kuntzelman about collective positive transformation. Sandwiching the lecture, and possibly the main attraction for some people, local transformative, New Age and/or Eastern businesses put on an exhibition with complimentary hor d'ouevres and beer, wine and other drinks.

The night had a lot of potential. It mostly missed the mark for me, though.

The lecture by Emanuel Kuntzelman didn't totally grab me but neither did it bore me. It occurred in a theater with stadium seating around half the stage, very similar to the theater at the college I went to, Marlboro College.

Unfortunately, I fell victim to glancing off, head falling, eyelids getting heavy, almost falling asleep then snapping up my head into awakeness throughout most of the lecture. Common phenomenon for me, even with the most exciting lecturer for some reason. . .including Al Gore in The Inconvenient Truth.

Emanuel Kuntzelman can't be blamed for my glancing off. With a good stage presence, he presented a knowledgeable, general and, dare I say it, safely abstract lecture. Kuntzelman

+ Used words like karma

+ Discussed the year 2012 as the important date focused on by the Mayans

+ Showed derision toward the movie 2012 as just another disaster movie that probably doesn't show respect to what the Mayans had to say

+ Used a dry erase board to illustrate that we can do a "quantum leap" over the possible catastrophe and

+ Illustrated stages of personal transformative growth on an X-Y axes of individual-society and spiritual-material

As for solutions, Kuntzelman encourages

+ World travel to experience other cultures and perspectives

+ Read books and interact with people from other cultures and perspectives

+ Delve into transformative practices and scholarship

He didn't seem to want to provide actual concrete solutions other than to just broaden your perspective.

A cynical skeptic might see his lecture as more of a sales pitch than anything. Kuntzelman isn't just some scholar, academic, guru or adventurer that Greenheart found after some research. Kuntzelman founded Greenheart. Most, if not all, his very general methods for people getting inspired to bring about positive transformative change are offered as products by Greenheart.

Despite the voice of my skepticism, I still think Kuntzelman provides an additional service by making a presentation like he did.

It kind of reminds of some kind Christian Revival, the like that they had in the 17th and 18th centuries in the United States. The organizers of Revivals would feel happy accepting completely new converts to Christianity. However, revivals mainly focused on reigniting the faith of lapsed Christians or even Christians that just never really took it seriously as a religion.

Kuntzelman provided me with some invigoration for positive transformation. I just have been feeling flat, the tediousness of life and that the long-term projects I've been focusing on don't provide enough short-term reward. I'm just getting nowhere with them. The ideas I present with the project will be obsolete when I finally release the project to the world. At least I have those thoughts every once in awhile.

Even though Kuntzelman didn't fill time jam packed with newness or really any new concrete direction, he provided some new interesting ways to think of some old concepts and a boost of motivation. I haven't found much to do with that motivation, since I've already filled up my time with mostly mundane, materialistic things to do. Money's a little tight, too, but freed up time and brainstorming could probably find something transformative to do.

I probably won't do much transformative work until I set aside time for it. Even right now, instead of reading while commuting or eating, I’m patching together this blog entry on my Smartphone whenever the chance presents itself. It's a start, but I need to make something happen.

Emanuel Kuntzelman hasn't done anything directly to help me reach this point. Knowing that there's transformation going on out there helps, though.

I wasn't entirely impressed by the business exhibition, either. The complimentary beer and the bar service was real good. Unfortunately, only thing I remember about the beer I had was that it was a copper lager. I don't remember the beer company. Did they have a rep there or was the bartender the rep?

I signed up for an acupuncture trial, but the acupuncturist booth was pretty disorganized. A needle didn't touch me that night. They said that they would call out names when it was a person's turn. I didn't hear them call out any name. Apparently my wife had to keep pestering them to put her under the needle.

For all but one of the other businesses there, I just picked up pamphlets and fliers. I wasn't in the most social mood, so I might have scared people off. I don't know. Still. . .there probably should've been some kind of token effort to hawk their services and try to win a client, shouldn't there?

The only business at the exhibition that captured my attention was Mindful Metropolis. This is a monthly free magazine you can find on Chicago street corners.

It emerged from the ashes of the Chicago incarnation of Conscious Choice. Conscious Choice up and left Chicago near the beginning of 2009. Conscious Choice left behind an enthusiastic staff that wanted to keep going. With stuff left behind and the remaining staff’s knowledge, they started Mindful Metropolis about 4 or 5 months ago.

The guy representing Mindful Metropolis did an awesome job

+ Telling the story of the magazine

+ Providing us information about its content

+ Where to find the magazine

+ Editorial guidelines

and just about anything else we wanted to know. The guy also provided some great conversation and gave us a very warm reception while providing us with very useful information.

Mindful Metropolis started a little rough with a fairly boring layout, but over the months, it has become more interesting to look at. It covers a lot of topics that Conscious Choice but tries do so with even more of a Chicago focus. Mindful Metropolis doesn't try to create themes for issues but generally ends up doing so just by luck.

For instance, the April issue has a theme: composting. You wouldn't think that a theme would just come out a morass of different writers, but something like composting during a pre-summer or summer issue seems pretty obvious. Get enough professional writers together, and a good number of them will come up with article ideas focusing around the season that the article will get published.

I’ve read about 20 pages into the current issue. If I took the reading more seriously, I would have learned quite a bit about where to get a composting container and also would have found out where to go for getting trained in a Green Job.

So far, Mindful Metropolis feels a little too materialistic, and I’d like a little more of the spiritual/philosophical side of things. Still have a lot more to read in the one magazine and the other issues that I have, though. Pretty good chance I’ll find something more in the vein that I want to read.

Mindful Metropolis made a great exit to the exhibition. I enjoyed the lecture by Emanuel Kuntzelman and the copper lager I had, but the other exhibitors felt bland and unimpressive.

For all I know, these types of businesses don’t like to get all forward and gregarious or want to feel pressured to put themselves out there. This subculture does have a laid back reputation for a reason.

Nonetheless, to bring about positive transformation and bring people to higher, mindful consciousness, I think these types of business need to get a little bit more assertive about their services. Just imagine the change then.

Links of interest: Greenheart, Chicago Center of Performing Arts, Emanuel Kuntzelman, 2012 (phenomenon), 2012 (movie), Mindful Metropolis, Conscious Choice