Sunday, August 31, 2008

Callings by Gregg Levoy - EXCERPTS

Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life. Gregg Levoy. 1997. ISBN 0-517-7-569-9


A call is only a monologue. A return call, a response, creates a dialogue. Our own unfolding requires that we be in constant dialogue with whatever is calling us. The call and one’s response to it are also a central metaphor for the spiritual life.

This book, then, is about putting on a lens through which we can see our lives as a process of calls and responses.

… this book is about remembering our vocations, again in the true sense of the word – our callings – whether they are vocations in the arenas of work, relationship, lifestyle or service. They may be calls to do something … or calls to be something.

Perhaps we do not really forget our calls but we fear what they might demand of us in pursuing them. Anticipating the conniptions of change blocks us from acknowledging that we do know, and always have known, what our calls are. Perhaps we also fear the hope that such calls evoke in us, and the power that we know is dammed up behind our resistance.

Calls are essentially questions. They aren't questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself, and kneel before. You don't want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life, a question that will offer you a lifetime of pondering, that will lead you toward what you need to know for your integrity, draw to you what you need for your journey, and help you understand what it means to burst at the seams.

The critical challenge of discernment – knowing whether our calls are true or false, knowing how and when to respond to them, knowing whether a call really belongs to us or not – requires that we also tread a path between two essential questions: “What is right for me” and “Where am I willing to be led?”

The channels through which callings come – whether dreams and symptoms or intuitions and accidents – are like oracles of any kind. They aren't meant to be treated as psychic vending machines, merely dispensing information. They are to be approached for dialogue, entered into in the spirit of correspondence and what the poet William Butler Yeats called "radical innocence". Their answers are typically metaphoric, paradoxical, poetic, and dreamlike, and they require reflection and conversation.

Although we have the choice not to follow a call, if we do not do so, the Sufi poet Kabir said, our lives will be infected with a kind of "weird failure." We'll feel alienated from ourselves, listless and frustrated, and fitful with boredom, the common cold of the soul. Life will feel so penetratingly dull and pointless that we may become angry, and turn the anger inward against ourselves (one definition of depression) or feel seized by the impulse to run madly out of the house, down to the river, and search among the bulrushes for a miracle.

Generally, people won't pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so, but it's appalling how high a threshold people have for this quality of pain.

What are you willing to give up to ensure your own unfolding, and the unfolding of what is holy in your life?

It is equally disconcerting to realize that you can have what you want. In most cases, this is true, if the call is. It is also a test to realize that if you really wanted, you could quit your job tomorrow. You might be in a pickle, but you could do it. You could get on a plane and fly to the Orient this week. You could pack a few things and take a retreat first thing in the morning. You could pack a few things and take a retreat first thing in the morning. You could leave this marriage tonight. You could start saving the whales or the children or the planet right now! Of course, when you realize this you run into the paralysis of freedom.

Be willing to approach obstacles as if they might be allies, and make your leaps of faith accordingly.

Death is a strip search. It points the barrel of mortality at your head and demands to see what you have hidden under your garments. It also asks the question “What do you love?” As you listen for callings keep such a question poised in your mind to help tune out some of the static. In fact, “What do you love” is the question that callings pose.

There will come a day when I die and do not rise, so I would rather die doing what I love than what I don’t.

Far from being the transcendent experience we imagine, though, this hero or heroine’s journey, this search for what is truest in ourselves, turns out to be largely pick-and-shovel work.

Don’t just suffer. Suffer creatively. Write about your inner conflicts around a calling. Draw them out. Play them up … Creative suffering burns clean … Neurotic suffering only builds up more soot.

The point of passion is mainly to follow, to let yourself love what you love, to respect your hunger and obey your thirst.

Dreams tell us how we really feel about something. They help us fine-tune our direction and ascertain our calls, show us our unfinished business, and remind us how much bigger our lives are than what we know consciously. In fact, dreams show us that consciousness itself is a scrambling around at the hem of something so big it would short us out if we understood its true dimensions. I sometimes wonder: If I can possess such immense powers in my dreams, might I similarly possess powers beyond my imagination in my waking life?

The unconscious often knows things we don’t things that in the broad daylight of consciousness remain invisible to us, just as the stars play to an empty house during the day when the sun is shining.

If you get in the habit of asking for dream guidance as you’re dropping off to sleep, the minions of Morpheus will fairly beat a path to your door. Just be prepared to take dictation. Keep a pad and pen by the bedside.

You have to also stay open to the possibility that what you think is the calling is only the foothills of a much larger mountain.

… when you're on the right path, the universe winks and nods at you from time to time to let you know.

We distance ourselves from art when we professionalize it, just as we disassociate from our own healing powers when we place responsibility for healing only in the hands of “healers”.

To Jung, nature isn’t opposed to transcendence – it is transcendence.

Like any art, writing is really only the mode of transport. The true calling is whatever we hope to draw to us through our art, what we want it to bring to us.

Myths are metaphors, analogies, stores that get at the heart of human behavior, at profound truths, universal themes, ageless patterns. The are, perhaps above all, stories of transformation: from chaos to form, sleep to awakening, woundedness to wholeness, folly to wisdom, from being lost to finding our way.

To the degree we are each looking for the places where callings break into our lives as emissaries of the sacred, it would serve us well to take pen and paper and try reframing our lives as myths.

Spiritual journeying, whether we walk around a holy mountain or sit in a single place on a five-day meditation retreat, is about interior or exterior movement toward the deep self. A geographical journey is symbolic of an inner journey for which we long.

Nature is a proper setting for a return to ourselves, our source, our place of origin.

Spiritual journeys, like stories, have at their core a central question – as do our lives – and if we understand not even the answers but merely the questions that animate our journeys, we've understood a lot.

On the last day of a vision quest I took into the Trinity Alps in Northern California some years ago, one of the guides, Jay Wood, warned me that whatever promises I made to myself during the journey, whatever insights I gained and intentions I set, I would need to defend them against the tendency of life to level all uprisings, to stomp my enthusiasm back into low relief.

If you forget that you have changed while on your journey, that you come back followed by another whose spirit you sought, that you made promises that must be kept, and that there are conditions to your transformation, you’ll jeopardize your mission. Know that your vision will follow you back and must be incorporated into your life and the lives of those you know.

We go to [the past] to ask our questions: What matters? What has always been there? What answers does my past reveal about the questions that are central to my life? What have I found myself saying to the world over and over just by the act of my life? What has been foreshadowed? What have people been telling me all my life? We don't ask "What is the meaning of life?" but "What is the meaning of my life?"

These rejected parts include whatever wasn’t loved, respected, and accepted in us by ourselves or our parents, teachers, peers, religion, and culture. Carl Jung called it our shadow. Robert Bly calls it “the long bag we drag behind us.” In it are all those qualities that were disapproved of by the people whose approval we needed in order to survive, or believed we needed.

In any case, we're going to need all the help we can get in following our calls. We're going to need every resource at our disposal, including some of those we've previously disposed of. We're going to need our self-interest to admit that something is missing in our lives, and maybe our despair to motivate us to find out what it is. We're going to need our blind faith to trust that what we hear is a call. We're going to need our stubbornness and righteous anger to stand up to the resistance from within and without. We're going to need the hermit in us to separate from the culture of conformity. We're going to need our insanity to do what might seem insane. We're going to need our spontaneity and impulsiveness or we'll never make the jumps. We're going to need our power to push us through, and our joy to celebrate at the feasts.

… a good piece of fiction will pit the protagonist against his or her greatest fear and rawest inner conflict. A calling will do the same thing … The hell of it is that we protagonists would rather choose chronic anxiety over acute confrontation. We’d rather dither for years than contend with the live wires of painful self-awareness and move through the resistance.

I had the realization that I and my entire generation, my whole civilization, in fact, are going to be one thin layer of sediment in the side of a cliff someday. Yet precisely because it makes a flyspeck of a difference whether I write my essays or not, somehow this frees me up to write, to follow the calling, to do whatever I want, because there is no failure. Or rather, failure is already assumed. I’m going to die and be a million years dead, and anyone who might possibly judge me for my pursuits and mistakes will be a fossil right next to mine in that Cliffside.

A calling itself is a limitation, and this explains why some people choose not to follow it. By following a call, we narrow our choices, and we close doors we may never be able to reopen.

One of the frightening prospects of saying yes to a calling is that you may find out who really supports your and who doesn’t.

Acquaint yourself with exactly how you’re conditioned to say no to yourself.

Eventually, our feelings of inauthenticity and restlessness, our envy of others' success, our panic at the passage of time and our own reflections in the mirror, all become like tombstones – they remind us of where someone is buried – and we measure our fear of death by the distance between our desires and our actions, between the life we want and the life we have.

Consistently choosing safety over adventure, brakes over accelerator, no over yes, and consistently preferring to be a passive observer rather than an active participant in our own lives can readily bring on anger and remorse, sorrow and frustration. We direct these emotions inward at ourselves or at those we claim to love, those who have to live with us but cannot say yes for us. Not honoring ourselves is fatefully tied up with not honoring others: our children and partners, our communities, the natural world. All of them suffer from our passivity and detachment.

If we don’t love our lives, if we don’t leave home and follow them deep into the forest and give ourselves over, the beauty can become stuck in the beast. We can reach a point of no return, beyond which we simply no longer have the life left in us to follow a calling, and we end up cataloguing with sad precision the passing of our days, the withering of the rose.

A calling is not so much something in our path as we are in its path. In following it, we exercise the courage to leave behind what we have for what we don’t, what we are for what we could be, and to take on challenges compared to which even depression and torpor might seem preferable. It is the courage to step past the point of no return, to acknowledge that all our mightiest refusals are mere resistance.

We may not cease being fearful, but we can cease to let fear control us.

If you're afraid to test your wares in the marketplace, to send your delicate shoots of optimism out into an indifferent world, and if you do it anyway, you risk losing your innocence, but if you sell, you gain confidence that cannot be had in any other way.

It's almost axiomatic that the important risks we don't take now become the regrets we have later. In fact, I was once told that if I'm not failing regularly, I'm living so far below my potential that I'm failing anyway.

Outside the cage, the sun is roaring with fission, arching through the blue sky. Wild winds flap the flags and fill the air with the sound of songs caught up in ecstasy and longing. There is life in its fleshy and toothsome grandeur, all the spill and stomp and shout of it, all the come and go of it, all of it on the one hand waiting for us to act, and on the other rushing down the hourglass.

In order to receive guidance, we have to give up being the knower.

… the words of the poet Rilke reminding me that the purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.

I am no closer to feeling secure in the world for having lots of answers. Making peace with the questions seems the better bet. After all, life doesn't end with an answer, but a question – what next? – and it certainly ends with a sacrifice – the hero always dies.

The knowing … put an end to the wondering, which in many ways was far more entertaining and instructive. In it, there was room for imagination and discovery, for the quest implied in question. The truth, it seems, did not set me free.

In making sacrifices for a calling, and thereby paying homage to something bigger than ourselves, we’re admitting that there is something bigger than ourselves. This is no mean concession for people who don’t believe in the existence of the soul, or who cannot answer the question “Who turned on the lights?”, or who believe themselves to be the center of the universe.

Sacrifice … is an ongoing sense of mind, a string tied around the finger to remind us that as long as we continue turning around on the mortal wheel, we need to let go of life as much as we need to hang on to it. The love we feel for the calling makes the difference between being at peace and not being at peace with the sacrifices we’re called to make. Love turns them into something almost akin to blessings, where others might see only horrendous sacrifices.

The only goals with any power, I was told, was the ones on tomorrows to-do list because they’re the only ones I can get my hands on. The big ones are out of my control. You can’t become a famous writer over night, one fellow said, but you can write two pages a day.

Many people best find the skills they need in nature, which teaches entirely by example, with not a word spoken and no equivocations whatsoever. Wild things are their mentors.

Dreams rarely stir up much trouble, but acting on them does.

Expectations narrow our focus so that, when circumstances have to pry open our retinas, we tend to resent the circumstances and not the expectations.

Much of the pain associated with callings comes from avoiding them, from not surrendering to them. However much sacrifice may be involved, much of the pain we feel in surrendering to callings actually comes from our anticipation of the pain and not from the actual capitulation. Once we do surrender, we often feel a sense of great relief, and just as often we are bewildered about why we didn't do it years ago.

That which propels us to say yes to our callings can save the world: the green shooting force of soul, a love of life and the good fight, an almost unreasonable sort of faith, a crying need.


The successful artist is someone who continues to make art and isn’t more than 50 percent bitter about the rest of life.

John Berryman
Artists are extremely lucky who are presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill them. Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing. Among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. I hope to be nearly crucified.

David Bayles and Ted Orland
Fears about yourself dig into your ability to do your best work, while fears about what others will think of you compromise your ability to do your own work.

Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

Martin Buber
Living means being addressed.

Frederich Buechner
We shy away from introspection because, however fearful the surface seems, we fear the depths still more. And we are right. There is much to fear there. If there is terror about darkness because we cannot see, there is also terror about light because we can see. Would rather not see.

Joseph John Campbell
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is the experience of being alive … of the rapture of being alive.

Helder Camara
When your ship, long moored in harbor, gives you the illusion of being a house … put out to sea! Save your boat’s journeying soul, and your own pilgrim soul, cost what it may.

Joan Didion
We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget what we whispered and what we dreamed. We forget who we were.

Annie Dillard
The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into the pulse.

Annie Dillard
The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.

Karlfried Graf Durkehim
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise in us. In this lies the dignity of daring. We must have the courage to face life, to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.

Wayne Dyer
Have you really lived ten thousand or more days, or have you lived one day ten thousand or more times?

Gustav Flaubert
Be regular and orderly in your daily affairs that you may be violent and original in your work.

Sigmund Freud
Everywhere I turn, I find that a poet has been there before me.

Johann Goethe
We talk too much. We should talk less and draw more.

John Graham
There is a very clear link between courage and the degree of meaning in someone’s life; the sense, at a really deep level, that you know why you do things, you know what your life is about. Most fear is fear of the unknown, but when you can answer this root question of what your life is about, that root insecurity is dealt with, and dealing with it makes it so that no fear is as bad as it was before. The more meaning, the more courage, and the less fear.

Vaclav Havel
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Billie Holiday
You’ve got to have something to eat and little love in your life before you can hold still for any-damn-body’s sermon on how to behave.

William James
[religion] the attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Robert Johnson
When the unstoppable bullet hits the impenetrable wall, we find the religious experience. It is precisely here that one will grow. Conflict to paradox to revelation: this is the divine progression.

Sam Keen
Enter each day with the expectation that the happenings of the day may contain a clandestine message addressed to you personally. Expect omens, epiphanies, casual blessings, and teachers who unknowingly speak to your condition.

Gary Kowalski
Everyone needs a spiritual guide. My own wise friend is my dog. He has deep knowledge to impart. He makes friends easily and doesn’t hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures and takes each day as it comes. Like a true Zen master, he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired. He’s not hung up about sex. Best of all, be befriends me with an unconditional love that human beings would do well to imitate.

Ann Kreilkamp
Not only is there no God to pray to, there’s no God to give the finger to. If there’s no God, I’m therefore free – and responsible. For the first time in my life, my soul came down inside my body and said to me, “Live or die. You have a choice.”

Norman Mailer
With the pride of the artist, you must blow against the walls of every power that exists, the small trumpet of your defiance.

Eric Maisel
A less than belligerent commitment is a curse.

Eric Maisel
Hush your thoughts just as if you were comforting a baby. A wild person with a calm mind can create anything.

Stanley Milgram
The demise of a sense of personal responsibility is the most consistent consequence of submission to authority.

Henry Miller
Whatever there be of progress in life comes not from adaptation, but through daring. The whole logic of the universe is contained in daring, in creating from the flimsiest, slenderest support.

Joseph Chilton Pearce
Nothing so upsets the bishop as the rumor of a saint in his parish.

M. Scott Peck
The unconscious is always one step ahead of the conscious mind – the one that knows things – so it’s impossible to know for sure. But if you’re willing to sit with ambiguity, to accept uncertainties and contradictory meanings, then your unconscious will always be a step ahead of your conscious mind in the right direction. You’ll therefore do the right thing, although you won’t know it at the time.

Fernand Pouillon
The best works are those at the limits of life. They stand out among a thousand others when they prompt the remark, “ What courage that must have taken!”

Buddhist Proverb
When in doubt about where you are meant to be, look down at your feet.

Roman Proverb
The fates lead those who will. Those who won’t they drag.

Wallace Stevens
I don’t ask for the full ringing of the bell. I don’t ask for a clap of thunder that would rend the veil in the temple. A scrawny call will do, from far off there among the willows and the cattails, from far off there among the galaxies.

P.L. Travers
Be still long enough, I though, and the trees would take no notice of me and continue whatever it was they were doing or saying before I happened upon them.

P.L. Travers
We ask our questions knowing that there is nothing to be gained, only a purpose to serve, and seeking not so much to find as to be found.

Michael Ventura
Unless you have the talent of the room, your other talents are worthless. Writing is something you do alone in a room, and before any issues of style, content, or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many years – how many years – can you remain in a room?

Doubt may be an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.

Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. But our playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Financial Markets Believe McCain Will Win in '08

Good analysis of why financial markets believe Senator McCain will win in '08:

Just before the '06 elections, mostly for Representatives, Goldman-Sachs manipulated the unleaded gasoline futures markets so that gasoline prices dropped sharply, but temporarily. This effectively removed the economy as an issue in that election period, leaving the "Wars" in Iraq and Afghanistan as the main issues. This time around, it looks as though the Powers That Be are again manipulating the markets to keep the economy out of the picture - oil and gas are cheaper, the dollar is stronger, gold and silver and other commodities are lower, and the media "talking heads" are chanting in unison that the economy, exports, and GDP are doing much better. Mr. Needham in the above commentary suggests that this is temporary again.

Keep your eyes and mind open.
Mike Childress

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Building Wealth by Lester C. Thurow - EXCERPTS

Building Wealth: The New Rules for Individuals, Companies, and Nations in a Knowledge-Based Economy. Lester C. Thurow.


In the new man-made brainpower industries of the twenty-first century, all of Europe is an also-ran. Nowhere is it an industrial leader.

For in the end, it is productivity growth (the ability to produce more output using fewer inputs) that ultimately drives real wealth creation.

At the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, six new technologies – microelectronics, computers, telecommunications, new man-made materials, robotics, and biotechnology – are interacting to create a new and very different economic world.

Knowledge is the new basis for wealth … Exactly how one controls (owns?) knowledge is in fact a central issue in a knowledge-based economy.

Just as the second industrial revolution moved us from local to national economies, so the third industrial revolution is moving us from national economies to a global economy … The existing international institutions – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization – were not meant to deal with a global economy.

In short, no one is going to set up a global government in the foreseeable future – regardless of whether it is or is not needed. As a result, the world is going to have a global economy without a global government. This means a global economy with no enforceable, agreed-upon set of rules and regulations, no sheriff to enforce codes of acceptable behavior, and no judges and juries to appeal to if one feels that justice is not being done.

In the twentieth century as local economies were replaced by national economies, national governments gained power. They needed to be given the powers necessary to control national economic systems. A global economy reverses this process.

To have great wealth is to have it all. It is not surprising that get-rich-quick books sell, even though the buyers know the books will convey nothing helpful. They are the modern equivalent of alchemy. Neither exists, but it would be so nice if they did that many are willing to suspend their critical faculties and believe in the unbelievable. Fairy tales both sell and give comfort – even when they are know to be fairly tales.

RULE ONE: No one has ever become very rich by saving their money. The rich see opportunities to work and invest in situations where large disequilibriums exist. This was as true for John D. Rockefeller as it is for Bill Gates. In both cases heir lifetime savings constitute a small fraction of their total wealth. Carefully saving one’s money and investing in normal equilibrium situations can make one comfortable in one’s old age but never really wealthy.

Big old firms understand, and often even invent, the new technologies that transform the world, but they have a structural problem that is almost impossible to solve. When new breakthrough technologies come along, old firms must destroy themselves to save themselves. They must cannibalize themselves, but they cannot.

“Entertainment” shopping will be able to compete with electronic shopping or some products, but no one knows which products. Which customers will be willing to pay more if they buy in an entertaining environment and which ones just want to buy at the cheapest possible price? Those who figure it out first will become rich.

Studies show that productivity falls sharply if workers telecommute for more than a day or two per week, but companies save most of their money by not having offices for the telecommuters.

If one takes a wide definition of culture (all leisure activities), culture is the world’s biggest industry.

New technologies mean change. Change means disequilibrium. Disequilibrium conditions create high-return, high-growth opportunities. The winners understand the new technologies, are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and have the skills to take advantage of these new situations. They become rich.

The problem with wealth generated from sociological disequilibriums is that it usually reflects more a transfer of existing wealth rather than a generation of new wealth.

RULE THREE: Business that would grow rapidly with high profit margins must take advantage of technological disequilibriums, exploit developmental disequilibriums, or create sociological disequilibriums. All other activities are slow-growth, low-rate-of-return commodity businesses.

For some unknown reason the third industrial revolution simultaneously created great market wealth and a miserable productivity performance.

If countries attempt to protect their companies in home markets, their companies are increasingly shut out of global markets, and for most big companies global markets are now more important than home markets.

The wealth pyramid begins with social organization. Social organization constitutes the great building stones at the bottom of the pyramid. Think of any of the world’s poorest countries – Haiti, Bangladesh, central Africa, Albania. All are characterized by chaos, disorder, and an inability to organize themselves socially. They cannot maintain public order. They cannot build or repair infrastructure. They cannot organize and staff village schools. They cannot deliver health services.

The Americans invented mass universal public education, were its leaders for a century, and used it to create their twentieth century success. But an educational system that once led the world is no longer world-class. America has to reinvent itself if it doesn’t want falling wages for a poorly skilled bottom two-thirds of its workforce.

With the onset of the third industrial revolution, the ability to rapidly open up the new and close down the old became the central characteristic needed for economic success. The American system was built to open up the new and close down the old. That is what it does best.

Having tried to set up one’s own business, even if one fails, is the mark of a good potential employee – works hard, creative, takes risks, knows how the world works.

Capitalism is a process of creative destruction. The new destroys the old. Both the creation and the destruction are essential to driving the economy forward.

Entrepreneurs are risk takers, organizers, and doers, not usually thinkers and inventors. The characteristics needed to create new knowledge are very different from the characteristics necessary to bring that knowledge into active use.

Sustainable long-run competitive advantage can be had only through an advantage in skills, education, and knowledge. Yet this is precisely where Europe has its greatest competitive advantage. If ratings were given for top to bottom skills, Europe would get the best ratings. It is more creative at the top than Japan and better educated at the bottom than America. Relative to any comparatively sized group in the rest of the world it is the best educated. Europe is a continent rich in human capital. Why, then, is it a laggard when it comes to the creation of wealth?

Western Europe has not solved its unemployment problem because it won’t adopt policies to accelerate growth or to lower wages.

RULE SIX: There are no institutional substitutes for individual entrepreneurial change agents. The entrepreneur winners of the game become wealthy and powerful, but without entrepreneurs, economies become poor and weak. The old will not exit; the new cannot enter.

In the United States, where payroll taxes are low, the underground economy is small. In Western Europe, where payroll taxes are high, the underground economy is large.

Knowledge generates the basic breakthroughs in technology that create the disequilibrium conditions in which high returns and high growth rates are possible.

Creating technological disequilibriums is an art form that not all societies have mastered. Even within creative societies, creativity is not spread equally. American Jews win far more than their proportional share of America’s Nobel Prizes. (But Israelis win almost none.) America’s great research universities are not evenly spread across the country. Every area of America does not have its Silicon Valley or Route 128.

Creativity does not occur when it has to challenge authority. Creativity occurs when there is no authority to challenge – when there is an empty space without order where creativity can grow unmolested. But to many, an empty space without order is chaos – and chaos must be suppressed.

Einstein dropped out of high school at fifteen; renounced his citizenship one year later; lived on the margins socially, economically, and morally; called himself a gypsy and was considered a bohemian by others. His life was in some sense a search for order in disorder, both scientifically and sociologically. Great creativity requires hard facts, wild imagination, and nonlogical jumps forward that are then proved to be right by working backward to known principles. Only the rebellious can do it. Curiosity and the desire to explore can be enhanced. Useful curiosity requires individuals who have mastered the existing body of knowledge but are not paralyzed by it. Enhancing curiosity is what really good graduate education is all about. Societies that value and honor curiosity produce curious people.

The reason manufacturing does most of the R&D spending is that historically it has been impossible to make money on innovations unless one made and sold the products that were the fruits of that new knowledge. Selling knowledge so that others could make the products that came from it has never been a profitable strategy.

To be useful, inventions usually need a well-educated workforce that can absorb the technology and acquire the skills necessary to employ it. If this skill base does not exist, the invention lies unused. This is why well-educated inventors in the developing world often move to the United States. Because their fellow citizens are undereducated, they can’t get their invention to market in their home environment.

While there are obviously individual exceptions, technological breakthroughs aren’t usually made by older researchers who have been looking at the same things in the same ways for long periods of time. New ways are usually conceived by those who haven’t accepted the old ways.

Whatever the process for establishing clear, enforceable property rights, capitalism does not work unless who owns what is clear. The private ownership of productive assets and the ability to appropriate the output that flows from those assets lies at the heart of capitalism. This principle is what gave capitalism its name. To make capitalism function, legally enforceable ownership rights have to be established.

Capitalism cannot deal with pollution because it cannot establish the ownership rights to clean air and water.

The source of any retailer’s future success is apt to be buried in the software of its electronic information and logistics systems rather than in its advertising or the novelty of its products.

Without a clear, workable, enforceable system of intellectual property rights, knowledge-based capitalism is not going to work. No one is going to invest the necessary sums in research and development if they cannot garner the resulting gains.

The prevailing wisdom among those who earn their living within our system of intellectual property protection is that some minor tweaking here and there will fix the problem. Much of this wisdom flows from nothing more profound than the belief that to open up the system to fundamental change would be equivalent to opening Pandora’s box. All can vividly see themselves as potential losers. Few consider the private and public gains that might accrue from a different system. The prevailing wisdom is wrong. The time has come not for marginal changes but for wide-open thinking about designing a new system from the ground up. This is never going to happen if the problem is left to those who make their living operating the current system. They have too many vested interests in preserving it with the fewest possible modifications.

The differentiation must start with distinctions between fundamental advances in knowledge and logical extensions of existing knowledge. Each deserves a different kind of patent.

In nineteenth century capitalism, human skills weren’t seen as that important. Labor was a rented, hired-and-fired, marginal factor of production. Socialism arose as a response to the secondary position of labor in capitalism, promising to give labor a central position in the economic system. This is what gave it its political appeal. Interestingly, just as socialism and communism were dying, technology was elevating humans to a more central position in the productive framework of capitalism. Capitalism was being forced to put human skills and knowledge, rather than machinery, at the heart of its system.

In a global economy where employers arbitrage the world looking for the lowest wages, people’s pay is not based on whether they live in a rich or a poor country but upon their individual skills. The well-educated living in India make something that looks like American wages, while the uneducated living in America make something that looks like Indian wages.

Older workers sell experience and skills of an earlier vintage. Young workers sell newly acquired skills. Experience is just less valuable. Over the past quarter of a century the returns to experience have been going down for every level of education.

In the twenty-first century, no country that wishes to be rich can leave some of its citizens uneducated. This applies to women as well as men. Any society that does not educate women (the Taliban in Afghanistan) is not going to be successful … Successful societies will educate women because they contribute needed talent to the workforce, but they will also do so because uneducated mothers seldom have well-educated sons. A knowledge economy requires two interlocking but very different skill sets. Knowledge creation requires highly educated creative skills at the very top of the skill distribution. Knowledge deployment requires widespread high-quality skills and education in the middle and bottom of the skill distribution. The same country need not lead in both.

Looking at how wages rise as years of education go up, big economic payoffs exist for the first few years of education and the last few years of education, but only very small economic returns accrue per year of education in between these extremes.

An extra year of college education has very little positive effect on earnings if the student does not complete a degree program. From an economic perspective the right advice is “Get a degree or don’t go.”

Publicly financed education spreads the costs across the entire population (not just those with kids) and across each individual’s lifetime. Spread out in this way, the costs don’t seem so overwhelming.

Age discrimination laws can protect older employees against being unfairly dismissed by their old firms, but they cannot get them a good job at a new company. Employers get to decide whom they will hire. In a fast-changing world, older employees too often bring obsolete experience and out-of-date skills. There are always a lot of possible young employees who look better and are better. Older job seekers do not suffer from discrimination. They are objectively economically obsolete.

RULE TEN: The biggest unknown for the individual in a knowledge-based economy is how to have a career in a system where there are not careers.

Under capitalism those who own tools are the decision-makers, and market wealth consists of the ownership of tools and the output that flows from them.

Current consumption expenditures on the health care and pensions of the elderly (over 50 percent of the federal budget now goes to the elderly) are driving investment spending out of the federal budget.

Rising stock market values cannot be used to finance investment in new tools. The money received by those who sell stock must be equal to the money given up by those who buy stock. It is a zero-sum transaction as far as investments are concerned. It generates no new funds for building tools. Only holding consumption below earnings can provide the necessary resources to build tools.

In America, all of our social conditioning is now leading not just toward the primacy of individual consumption but toward the view that nothing else matters at all. Billions are spent advertising the benefits of different consumption goods. Little or nothing is spent advertising the importance of investment goods. When he first came into office in 1992, President Clinton was debating whether his new administration should focus on health care, education, or infrastructure. He chose health care, a form of public consumption, rather than education or infrastructure, both forms of public investment. He did not just make a political mistake. He focused Americans on a consumption problem when he should have focused them on investment problems. Even if he had succeeded in reforming health care, it was the wrong problem to address. He could and should have focused us in a very different direction.

In cities that have developed since the onset of the auto age, population densities simply aren’t high enough to justify the frequency of service that makes mass transit competitive with the auto in cost or time.

Market prices measure what is happening to the relative supplies and demands of natural resources. What has happened to oil is happening across the spectrum of other energy supplies, minerals, and agricultural products. Reductions in demand plus new technologies have created a world where natural resource availability is growing far faster than demand.

It is not possible to have American standards of living at home without at the same time having American production standards at work.

Americans want more than they have, but with marketable wealth of just $1.3 million invested in riskless government bonds, one could have those dreams without ever having to work, without ever touching one’s principal, and at death be able to leave one’s children $1.3 million in wealth.

In all countries, wealth is much more unequally distributed than earnings.

Falling equity in one’s own home is also the principle reason why the wealth of the median household is going down in absolute terms. When it comes to the wealth accumulation of the median family, home equity loans (something first allowed in the mid-1980s) have been a disaster.

Great wealth does not depend on personal savings, but modest wealth does. With lower savings rates in America, less wealth for those with lower savings rates should come as no surprise. Americans have a more unequal distribution of wealth because they have chosen to have more current consumption and less wealth. America’s greater inequality is simply a matter of different tastes.

Acquiring great wealth is best seen as a conditional lottery. Luck is necessary. One does have to be in the right place at the right time. Great wealth is created during times of change – the second and third industrial revolutions. Capitalizing on existing disequilibriums (technological, sociological, or developmental) is the name of the game.

Wealth is created in the financial markets but not by the financial markets. Financial markets capitalize the value of eliminating technological, developmental, or sociological disequilibriums.

With electronic shopping, where products are delivered to the home rather than carried home by the buyer, maybe the profits will be made by the delivery companies (UPS, Federal Express) and not by those that run the Internet stores. For what new, never-before-delivered services will people be willing to pay premium prices? What will have to be done to preserve those premium prices?

In the long run market wealth cannot grow unless productivity grows. Productivity is the putting together of the basic building blocks of the wealth pyramid so that humans with finite lifetimes and limited energy levels can produce ever greater levels of output. New technologies are staffed with new skills organized in new ways using new tools powered by new sources of energy to make new things. The difference between output and input growth is what causes wealth to increase.

Slower rates of growth in the capital-to-labor ratio inevitably mean slower rates of growth in productivity.

The antitrust suit against Microsoft is a dramatic case in point. It illustrates a type of regulatory chaos that doesn’t make sense in a well-ordered society. It’s a suit that would not have been brought in any other country in the world. In a short period of time Microsoft has become the most valuable company in the world, with a dominant global market position. It is precisely the kind of company that every country wants. Anywhere else it would be protected like a crown jewel. Other governments would ask what they could do to help it – not what they could do to hobble it … But such erratic, nonsensical actions reflect a type of regulatory chaos that does create economic space for other firms – even if those other firms are apt to be in other countries. American industry has too much chaos, but too much is clearly better than too little when a country reaches America’s position on the wealth pyramid. A high degree of chaos leads to economic creativity.

Revolutions cannot be organized from the top by those running the old system. Revolutions are always frightening to those with vested interests. Those at the top of any successful system, whether political or industrial, have vested interests.

Leaders are not entrepreneurs. Leaders are the order part of the system. Entrepreneurs are the chaos part of the system. Both are necessary, but neither can play the role of the other. Creativity cannot be organized. It is a product of disorganization. In very successful societies, creativity requires some chaos, but not so much chaos that there is not enough order to use what has been invented.

Large bureaucracies, whether government or private, always have too many vested interests in the old to be pioneers of the new technologies that will destroy the old … Capitalism’s only advantage is that death is easier if big firms are privately owned … Socialism never figured out how to kill its dinosaurs; they just went on using up resources until the system collapsed.

Big companies are where managers of the new companies learn the management skills (make mistakes on other people’s money) that allow them to start up their own companies with fewer mistakes.

Centrally organized economic change is theoretically possible but in practice impossible. The economic losers who already exist are always politically stronger than the potential winners who have yet to come into existence.

Capitalism does not work when assets have to carry debts whose value is greater than the market value of the assets themselves. Capitalism only works when profits can be earned.

If countries cannot do what is necessary, economic stagnation looms over their futures. But the causes of that stagnation are not in the economy. They lie in an unsolved political crisis – an inability to act when action is required – that leads to disastrous economic consequences.

Judges don’t think about what makes sense from the perspective of accelerating technological and economic progress. Their concern is with how new areas of technology can be inserted into the legal framework with the least disruption to existing legal interpretations.

As monopoly power wanes, and social interest in encouraging the development of new intellectual property grows, the balance in our system should shift toward encouraging the production of new knowledge and be less concerned about the distribution of existing knowledge. Tighter or longer-term patents and copyrights are warranted.

If someone cannot think of how a legal right can be enforced, it should not be a legal right.

The system must be able to determine rights and resolve disputes quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. Many of the problems with the current patent system flow from the lack of consistent, predictable, rapid, low-cost determinations about intellectual property rights and a means of quick, cheap dispute resolution.

To accomplish society’s interest in expanding knowledge as rapidly as possible, certain classes of knowledge ought to be in the public domain and freely available to everyone. The use of basic scientific knowledge is central in an era of man-made brainpower industries because it allows breakthrough technologies to be developed.

Because of low salaries, elementary and secondary teachers tend to come from the bottom of the education distribution. Americans are asking people who were not themselves good students to teach others to place a high value on being a good student.

Part of the American workforce will have the skills necessary to take advantage of the new technology-intensive global economy. They’ll march on to economic success, joining a global team and leaving the rest of the American workforce behind. The problem isn’t that this model won’t work. The problem is precisely that it will work … The problems are basically moral. Is one living in a good society if that society knowingly lets a major fraction of its citizens drop out of the first world and effectively become third world wage earners?

Governments can increase investment by spending more of their own funds on infrastructure tool-building … The tax system could be shifted from an income/payroll-based system to a consumption-based one in which citizens are taxed only on what they take out of a system (consumption) and not on what they put into it (tools or work effort).

The returns to capital are up and the returns to labor are down. On a global basis labor is more abundant relative to capital than it is in the developed world. As a consequence the earnings of capitalists grow, and the earnings of labor fall. Similarly the returns to skills are up and the returns to raw unskilled labor are down.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure by Daniel Quinn - Excerpts

Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Great Adventure. Daniel Quinn. 1999. ISBN 0-609-60490-2.


Programs never stop the things they’re launched to stop. No program has ever stopped poverty, drug abuse, or crime, and no program ever will stop them.

Old minds think: How do we stop these bad things from happening?
New minds think: How do we make things the way we want them to be?

Old minds think: If it didn’t work last year, let’s do MORE of it this year.
New minds think: If it didn’t work last year, let’s do something ELSE this year.

One can imagine how desperately the pontiffs, potentates, dynasts, princes, pendragons, princelings, rajahs, hierophants, priests, priestesses, and palace guards of all these tottering civilizations must have desired to implant in the minds of their vacillating subjects this very simple concept: Civilization must continue at ANY cost and must not be abandoned under ANY circumstance.

Karl Marx recognized that workers without a choice are workers in chains. But his idea of breaking chains was for us to depose the pharaohs and then build the pyramids for ourselves, as if building pyramids is something we just can’t stop doing, we love it so much.

Our cultural vision was shaped by people who were perfectly satisfied with the notion that the universe they saw was in its final form, and had come into being in that form – in a single stroke, so to speak. The Genesis tale of creation didn’t originate this notion; it merely affirmed it: God did his work, saw it was in no need of improvement, and that was that.

Natural selection is a process that separates the workable from the unworkable, not the perfect from the imperfect.

… there’s a difference between painting in order to make money and making money in order to paint.

The way rulers benefit from the success of the society is vastly different from the way the masses benefit, and the pyramids and the temples testify to the importance of the rulers, not to the masses who build them.

Kids of all ages run off to join the circus. No one runs off to join Disney World.

As everyone knows (especially revolutionaries), hierarchy maintains formidable defenses against attack from the lower orders. It has none, however, against abandonment. This is in part because it can imagine revolution, but it can’t imagine abandonment. But even if it could imagine abandonment, it couldn’t defend against it, because abandonment isn’t an attack, it’s just a discontinuance of support.

We deeply believe in taking a military approach to problems. We proclaim a “war” on poverty. When that fails, we proclaim a “war” on drugs. We “fight” crime. We “combat” homelessness. We “battle” hunger. We vow to “defeat” AIDS.

One element of acceding to homelessness is accepting the fact that the poor will consistently choose the least worst alternative available to them. If you find them living under a bridge instead of in a nice, clean municipal shelter just a block away, you can be absolutely sure they haven’t made a mistake – from their point of view. The shelter’s admittance procedures may be intolerably invasive, arbitrary, or humiliating, or its rules may be Draconian. Whatever, the discomforts of sheltering under the bridge are more endurable.

Acceding to homelessness would look like helping the homeless succeed WHILE being homeless. What an idea! I can almost hear the howls of outrage from both liberals and conservatives that must greet such a concept. Help people succeed at being homeless? We want them to fail at being homeless! (So they’ll return to the mainstream.)

Don’t try to drive the homeless into places we find suitable. Help them survive in places they find suitable.

Because the tribe is its members, the tribe is what its members want it to be – nothing more and nothing less.

The tribe, in fact, is just a wonderfully efficient social organization that renders making a living easy for all – unlike civilization, which renders it easy for a privileged few and hard for the rest.

Communes never begin in this haphazard way. They’re “intentional” communities, originating among people who want to live together in pursuit of common ideals, usually in relative isolation. Communes are about living together and may or may not involve working together. Tribes (and I speak here of “new” tribes, of course) originate among people who want to pool their energies and skills to make a living together. Tribes are about working together and may or may not involve living together.

It’s a fundamental tenet of our cultural mythology that the only thing wrong with us is that humans are not made well enough. We need to be made of finer materials, to some set of better specifications (provided, perhaps, by greened-up versions of our traditional religions). We just need to be made kinder, gentler, sweeter, more loving, less selfish, more far-sighted, and so on, then everything will be fine. Of course, no one succeeded in making us better last year or the year before that or the year before that or the year before that – but maybe this year we’ll get lucky … or next year or the year after that.


Jacques Attali
Machines are the new proletariat. The working class is being given its walking papers.

Marshall Sahlins
The world’s most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilization.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Removing a Fatal Impediment" by Deepcaster LLC

'Some of the worst Investment Mistakes and Political Misjudgments occur as a result of the psychological impediment of “Denial.”

'Denial is a natural human tendency - - it is often easier, temporarily, to deny unpleasant realities than to actually address and cope with them. But failing to address, acknowledge and cope with unpleasant realities more often than not has quite deleterious consequences.

'This is especially true in the world of investing. As we describe below, key ominous financial and geopolitical developments over the past weeks are coming to a head. There is a high probability that these developments will serve as an occasion for, at the very least, greatly increased tension, and, at worst, for disaster.'

The rest of this article, which covers domestic and international crises in progress are at:

This is stuff the domestic media refuse to cover accurately.

Keep your eyes and your mind open,
Michael Childress

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Against the Machine by Lee Siegel - Excerpts

Against the machine: Being human in the age of the electronic mob.
Siegel, Lee. 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0385522656


Convenience is an essential part of what most contemporary commercial propositions promise to bring us.

But a revolution in convenience cannot possibly be … anything that can be called a revolution. And yet the Internet has indeed caused a revolution. It’s just that the prophets of the Internet don’t ever want to talk about what type of revolution it is.

Satisfying our own desires has become more important than balancing our relationships with other people.

We live more in our own heads than any society has at any time, and for some people now the only reality that exists is the one inside their heads.

The Internet is the first social environment to serve the needs of the isolated, elevated, asocial individual.

Technology is a catalyst for bringing forth some human traits and suppressing others.

Ten years ago, the space in a coffeehouse abounded in experience. Now that social space has been contracted into isolated points of wanting, all locked into separate phases of inwardness.

What kind of idea do we have of the world when, day after day, we sit in front of our screens and enter further and further into the illusion that we ourselves are actually creating our own external reality out of our own internal desires?

Today’s New Entrepreneur represents an all-out assault on the idea that a person can exist outside the sphere of the marketplace.

People don’t want their privacy invaded. They now want other people, as many people as possible, to watch them as they carefully craft their privacy into a marketable, public style. Real private life has gone underground; it is a type of contraband.

… people have now come to expect inner life to be performed, rather than disclosed.

But self-expression is not the same thing as imagination.

What “self-expression” does not mean is the making of art – of any kind of art, popular or high. You would not refer to The Catcher in the Rye as a major feat of self-expression …

The comparison of art to self-expression would make no sense if the latter had not entirely supplanted the former in the lives of self-expression’s vast number of producers and consumers.

Like the novice performers on American Idol, every one of those videobloggers is performing some piece of popular culture; you recognize the shticks of a hundred comedians you’ve seen on television …

Let’s accept [Alvin] Toffler’s crude and simplistic definition of what is still the modern economy: an arrangement in which life is divided into producing – that is, earning a living – and buying what other people produce or provide. Though Toffler doesn’t say so, in the activity of buying we also find our leisure time. We do so by purchasing a product or a service and then, once the transaction is finished, by withdrawing into our private space to enjoy it. For Toffler, however, a social space in which nothing economic takes place is a terrible waste. It is a kind of sin.

In Toffler’s vision of the future, countless activities that were once disinterested and private, or simply leisurely, are converted into one type of transaction or another. Indeed, no private or leisure time exists. Every private thought is performed for public consumption, and every leisure moment (from toilet training to lovemaking) is a highly focused search for a specific gratification, guided by experts serving you in their field. No unexpected events or unanticipated human contact need apply.

[Pierre] Omidyar’s eBay directly took its cue from Toffler’s “prosumer” – it has hyperefficiently perfected the art of having people cram its products down their own throats, and all in the transvaluing name of “democracy” and “libertarianism”.

No matter how different the Web sites are that you visit, the experience of being on them is similar.

… on, she and I are learning to perform ourselves, and package ourselves, and sell ourselves to each other. We sound like everyone else, and like everything else.

… if you are the “seller” – a funny irony takes place. Amid all these infinite-seeming choices, the only way to stand out and be chosen is, paradoxically, to sound more and more like everyone else. But you must sound more like everyone else than anyone else is able to sound like everyone else.

The saddest person experience, the most outrageous sex act, the most blatant insult, gets “produced” as a video clip or blog entry for worldwide consumption. Demassification is a more advanced means of allowing mass culture to reach down deeper into life. Product and producer get enfolded into the single individual, who then goes public in order to tout his privacy.

All the imitation and derivation stem from the fact that on the Internet, success – like choice and access – exists for its own sake. Since the greatest success is, well, being greatly successful, you choose a performance that’s already been certified as being a big success. Popularity being the best guarantee of success, you end up imitating the most proven popular act. You must sound more like everyone else than anyone else is able to sound like everyone else.

When you’re an adolescent, to be like someone is often a prerequisite for being liked by that person.

Maybe he was the “class clown”, who ingratiated himself at the price of his dignity. Or the boy who vandalized or outraged in order to please. Or she was the “easy” girl. Such a person did not appeal to other people on the basis of a quality that he shared with them, a quality that was also the essence of an activity which did not belong to anyone: athletic prowess, dramatic skill, intellectual capacity. Such a person divorced popularity from identity, and from the kind of accomplishment that might boost self-esteem and strengthen identity. He transformed his very self – not his interests, talents, or skills, his self – into a product that he tailored to fit the needs of others. For this type of person, there was no such thing as other people to try to relate to. There was only an audience to try to please.

The Internet loves preadults … What could be more democratic than uttering an obscenity?

… its wild success lay mostly in the fact that [Malcolm] Gladwell was writing a guide to making yourself a prosumer. The Tipping Point is a how-to book on Homo interneticus.

The Internet’s premium on popularity as the sole criterion of success gives the lie to its claims of “choice”, “access”, and increased opportunity for individual expression.

In Gladwell’s eyes, the self is always a packaged commodity. It is a product we shape and sell through our performance of what we want other people to think is going on inside us.

Popular culture used to draw people to what they liked. Internet culture draws people to what everyone else likes.

A quirk attracts attention. Originality holds it.

Like the people on YouTube and on the social-networking sites, on the Internet dating sites, and in the blogosphere, [American] Idol’s striving singers package and perform their privacy for public consumption. What makes this show, this enemy of originality, so original is that the private and the public are literally fused and exposed before your very eyes. In the race for popularity – that is, fame without accomplishment – the self is left behind. They just want to be liked. They just want to be big.

The rise of reality TV, which celebrates physical and psychological imperfection, is a revolt against the oppressiveness of other people’s fame – a rebellion against the oppressive authority of those glamorous, unattainable “screen icons”. An even more explicit uprising against glamorous authority is the celebration of mediocre, merely derivative talent on the anti-original Idol. Fame is now a “virus” that “infects” the masses by means of its “contagiousness”. Popularity has bullied fame out of its perch.

If he were starting out today, the photographer Robert Frank, for example, would not be traveling across America, snapping pictures of ordinary life. He would be orchestrating his photographs to look like stories about American life, artificially real stories that we had to mentally project ourselves into in order to complete.

Rhythm is music’s first person, as the close-up is film’s.

Commercial culture … is all about the gratification of your self-interest, and it involves the total engagement of your ego.

“Web 2.0” is the Internet’s characteristically mechanistic term for the participatory culture that it has now consummated and established as a social reality.

Although Web 2.0 is the brainchild of businessmen, many of its promoters extol it with the rhetoric of “democracy”, that most sacred of American words. But democracy is also the most common and effective American political and social pretext.

… when Internet boosters speak ringingly about “the many wrestling power from the few”, as Time put it, what they usually mean is finding a different way for the same old few to bring in many new customers.

”Convenience” is also the rote answer to another fundamental question: Why does anyone not employed in the news media need a constant flow of news and information?

The Internet does indeed have achievements in the news business. It has forced the traditional news outlets to seek out more and more trivial news, in order to compete with the Internet. And it has engorged the “old” media with streams of useless information. The latter development is yet another consequential creation of a new value that thrives behind the mask of an old one. For what this new religion of information has done is to pretend that information now has the power of knowledge. In the process, knowledge has been devalued into information.

You desire knowledge for its own sake, not for the sake of knowing what someone else knows, or for the sake of being able to pass it on to someone else. Knowledge guarantees your autonomy. Information gets you thinking like everyone else who is absorbing the same information.

… the Internet has no interest in knowledge for its own sake. It prizes information because, unlike knowledge, information has exchange value on the market.

Wikipedia, with its video-game-like mode of participation, and with its mountains of trivial factoids, of shifting mounds of gossip, of inane personal details, is knowledge in the process of becoming information. At the same time, consume participation in the creation of the news is information crumbling into particles of incoherence.

But we are living in a popularity culture, where being liked is the supreme value. Therefore, few people write critically about anything any more. Instead of criticism, the air brims with mockery and sarcasm …

[Wyatt Mason] argued that social criticism is now mostly in the hands of the comedians and that their humor was characterized by a tone which was “so sarcastic, so ironic, so sardonic.” … Perhaps Mason did not want to risk the cascade of obloquy that would have fallen on him from the popularity-driven blogosphere if he had developed an argument about, say, the similarity between the contemptuous sarcasm of sensationally popular Stephen Colbert and the contemptuous sarcasm of sensationally unpopular George W. Bush. Who could blame Mason for his caution, given the deafening clamor of mockery, taunting, and rage that is all around us? The deafening clamor of tons upon tons of information being chewed up and spat derisively out. The sound of the blogosphere.

Blogs are in the vanguard of the popularity culture. They must sound more like everyone else that anyone else is able to sound like everyone else. On any given day, the political and gossip blogs move in lockstep from one hot topic to the next. What gets attention is the most outrageous variation on what everyone is talking about. That gets the most links, and the most links get the most page views, and the most page views win the highest Google ranking. Traditional media outlets have divided the business side from the editorial side. Bloggers, who are prosumers par excellence, are in the business of selling their only product, which is themselves.

… since the blogosphere represents mass opinion galvanized by the promise of approval and recognition, it is more mainstream than the so-called mainstream media ever were.

1. Not everyone has something meaningful to say.
2. Few people have anything original to say.
3. Only a handful of people know how to write well.
4. Most people will do almost anything to be liked.
5. “Customers” are always right, but “people” aren’t.

Now the blogosphere’s drags on fairness, honesty, and accuracy are accepted as an immutable condition, a set of trade-offs that have to be made for the sake of democracy, anti-elitism, true dissent, and greater access to information. It follows, then that any criticism of the blogosphere is antidemocratic, elitist, protective of the status quo, and a form of censorship.

In the name of “full participation”, unbiased, rational, intelligent, and comprehensive news, news as a profession, like the practice of law or medicine – will be come less and less available. Standards will get drowned out by the mass pressure of universal access. For universal access requires that the news deliver universally appealing items. Like demagogic politicians, who appeal to appetite and emotion rather than reason, this will be the age of demagogic journalism.

Internet users generally, however, and bloggers especially inhabit an absolutely solitary space in which other people exist as stick figures filled out by the user’s or blogger’s conception of them. It is a personal space disguised as a social space. In the blogosphere, the ego operates unobstructed by other egos. That’s why virulent hatred comes so easily, and why any response to it comes as a shock, and an outrage. Stick figures are not supposed to answer back. Not when they exist mostly in our head.

You never enter the Internet as you would enter a park, or go onto the street, or browse through a bookstore. You don’t go online to just go for a walk, not knowing what you’ll find or who you’ll meet. You go online to look for something. Everyone you meet online is looking for something, too. The Internet is the most deliberate, purposeful environment ever created.


Brady, Jim
The best thing about the Web – you have so much information about how people use it – is also the worst thing.

Gladwell, Malcolm
When we are trying to make an idea or attitude or product tip, we’re trying to change our audience in some small yet critical respect: we’re trying to infect them.

Turner, Fred
[for Stewart Brand] the rhetoric of community provided the ideological cover necessary to transform a potentially stark and single-minded market transaction into a complex, multidimensional act.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ambrose Bierce Political Quotations

An election is an advance auction of stolen goods.

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Delegation, n. In American politics, an article of merchandise that comes in sets.

Opposition, n. In politics, the party that prevents the government from running amuck by hamstringing it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Alternative News Columnists - Links

Two good sources of alternative socio-politico-econo-information:

Jim Willie

F. William Engdahl

You might want to bookmark these two sites to check their latest postings.

Keep your eyes and mind open,
Michael Childress

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The 500-Year Delta by Jim Taylor, Watts Wacker, and Howard Means.

The 500-Year Delta: What Happens After What Comes Next. Jim Taylor, Watts Wacker, and Howard Means. 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0887309113


“freedom to know” – a world in which for the first time in human history caste or schooling or economic circumstance no longer limits access to knowledge, a world in which knowledge itself is less important than the skill to access it.

“freedom to go” – a world in which for the first time true global citizens will have true global mobility.

“freedom to do” in accord not with professional processes or bureaucratic structures but with one’s own intuition and entrepreneurial zeal.

“freedom to be” whatever one wants to be and the obligation to exercise that freedom.

If you are going to succeed in chaos, you must connect with chaos. You must act in concert with chaos. What does that mean? It means that you must trust in intuition, trust in self.

The media today is not only the message – it is the message discriminator. And increasingly it is around those finely discriminated messages that we organize our social lives.

Jacque’s theory … what really mattered in any organization was not how many people you managed, not how much money you had under your control, but how binding your decision was on the life span of the organization.

Rainmakers – individuals who simply by virtue of their existence, their contacts, and their reputations could cause large pieces of business to move with them.

The island-hopping executive. The professional who is most willing to make life changes not in pursuit of the group mission but in pursuit of his or her own ambition. The employee who recognizes that power in a chaos organization migrates to the greatest variable, that the new success paradigm frees the individual.

Because access creates globalism, and globalism disrupts political systems by making the concept of borders obsolete. As borders disappear, the concept of taxation, which supports governments, becomes increasingly fragile.

Because leverage in a chaos world goes to the critical variables, the person able to cut the best deal in a corporation today is not the most loyal one, but the one willing to leave himself or herself the most outs.

… there is no surer way to lose customers – and lose them for good – than to sell them stone and flint when you are just about to introduce safety matches into the marketplace. That is another corollary of the acceleration of technological change. Quality may still be job one, but mediating a consumer’s risk of feeling like a fool is at least job two.

First, as new products arrive on the marketplace with ever greater rapidity, the products themselves lose value and the ideas that drive them gain value. Second, as consumers increasingly drive the economic relationships of the marketplace, the need to massively accumulate data on individual consumers increases proportionally.

Generation X has powerful subsidiary values. Its very uncertainty about its economic future is helping to turn the fear of downward mobility into the virtue of downward nobility, and the rise of downward nobility – the desire not for many things but a few good things – will drive consumerism in the years immediately ahead.

Flight impulse is building to critical mass. Undermined by the death of loyalty or liberated by the new freedoms to know, to go, to do, to be – it is all a matter of interpretation – forty-five to fifty-year-olds soon will be seeking en masse completely different lifestyles and actively plotting their flights.

As the marketplace drives toward a supersaturation of products, scarcity disappears, and with it status orientation. As mass culture breaks up into, in effect, hundreds of millions of individual realities, there can be no shared assumptions of what is enviable to own.

For most people in most industrialized nations, governments now exist as a mechanism for the transfer of payments and almost nothing more – save for their sheer entertainment value. For a radical theory, that one, in fact, is about as plain as the nose on your face. Why has the Washington intellerati failed to grasp it? Because the centrality of the political process is intimately tied to the intellerati’s own centrality – if government doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Like other communes, the political commune talks mainly to itself, and thus has its worldview both set and confirmed within the confines of its commune.

In the drive toward sameness, cultural discriminators are disappearing. It is in the interest of politicians to foster the impression of international business conflict, because conflict is drama, and politicians get to star in the playlets that ensue.

If nationalism no longer has meaning, if corporate identity can float away in an instant, if you are no longer identified by your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, by where you went to college or what clubs you belong to, you can choose to reinvent your life every single day.

One of the reasons, perhaps the chief reason, the explosion in information has bred such widespread discontent is that too much information is chasing too few decision – and too little interest.

Every human life becomes, in effect, a data bank. And as that happens, everything about you – your habits, your preferences, your buying whims, your opinions – assumes a transaction worth. They become more than the sum total of your wants and needs; they become your intellectual property, to be valuated and protected as strongly as any other property you possess.

As privacy becomes rarer and rarer, it will assume greater and greater worth, and privacy management will become one of the great growth industries of the twenty-first century.

… as people become more and more aware of the economic worth of their own privately held information, they will come more and more to realize what a fortune about themselves they have absolutely pissed away. Therein lies the beginning of anger. And revenge.

Time really is money; so is attention.

For better or worse, study after study has shown that working women still can be broken into two groups: those who think that what they do is a career and those who think it is a job. Otherwise, the lives of women who work outside the house for money are virtually indistinguishable one from the other.

Like the lives they reflect, the new lifestyle discriminators are situational, deal-based. None of them relies on loyalty, because the future itself isn’t about loyalty – it’s about contracts.

“filocity” – the ability to adapt instantaneously to multiple relationships and move easily among multiple cultures.

Mass religion, we contend, is as doomed as mass culture, not because people will believe less, but because group reality is becoming particularlized and because loyalty to a single overriding interpretation of the divine is as dated as loyalty to family or to a corporation.

By definition, freedoms free, but they also sweep away excuses.

To be free to know whatever it is you need to know to pursue your destiny means that there will be little sympathy for those who fail to arm themselves with the essential knowledge to succeed. To be free to go wherever it is you need to do to pursue your destiny means that there will be little sympathy if you elect to go nowhere and suffer as a result. To be free to do whatever it is within you intellectual and physical capacity to do means that if you fail to make an attempt to do it and suffer as a result, there will be little sympathy. To be free to be whatever it is within your intellectual and physical capacity to be means that if you don’t pursue possibility and suffer as a result, there will be little sympathy.

True freedom … entails true responsibility. It is impossible to have one without the other, impossible to demand true individual rights on the one hand and claim group victimization or demand group redress on the other.

Like success, failure is a solo act; individuals alone are responsible for both.

… the only thing you can count on in your personal or professional life is that people and organizations will act irrationally.

The reality is that “families” are largely a status symbol today, a luxury for those who can afford to keep them intact.

The reality in a chaos world is that the greatest power belongs to the person who controls the most unstable variable.

The reality is that there are only two kinds of workers in any business organization: owners and employees. And the further reality is that there are only two kinds of employees: the 5 percent who would stay where they are if they were offered twice their salary to leave and the 95 percent who would be gone in a flash.

The myth of governments. the myth is that they matter. The reality is that they matter mostly to those who have an economic stake in their day-to-day operation – that is, to government employees and those who receive federal transfer payments.

The myth of action. The myth, made famous by the Nike sports-wear slogan, is just do it. The reality is that in a chaos world, you cannot “do” your way to anything. You can achieve an end only by focusing on outcome and letting each individual decision be dictated by your final goal. Don’t do it. Be it.

… the myth that reality is real. The reality is that each individual edits reality for himself. The reality is that the combinations and permutations of media choices allow each person to have an entirely idiosyncratic view of reality. The reality is that today reality is constructed.

In a chaos world … the only way to manage a life is from the edge, and the only thing you can depend on is you.

… when you can’t depend on institutions as you have known them, when you can’t depend on relationships, when converging rivers of change are rushing forward into a new world, and when uneasiness, chaos, and disharmonious conjunctions have become the organizing principles driving those rivers of change, anxiety is simply unavoidable. And we further argue that the largest part of our cultural schizophrenia – of this disconnection between attitudes and behaviors – comes not from the onrush of change, but from the fact that we are being programmed to avoid anxiety as the same time we are coming to intuitively understand that we must embrace anxiety to survive.

What do you find when you embrace anxiety? That it turns to enlightenment.

Enlightened anxiety doesn’t mean that you ignore problems or that you worry over them at random. It means that you allow problems to take their course and do the best that you can within them. It means that you recognize that there are enormous numbers of things in your personal and professional life over which you have not control, no ability to effect an outcome, and that you recognize further that there is great liberation in having no control over them. It means that you stay permanently flexible, because it is only by being so that you can achieve synchronicity with a world that has itself entered into a state of permanent flexibility, a world that is being subtly and meaningfully altered every day. Here’s the real secret of successful people and businesses: They are different every day of their existence.

Fusion creates energy. Energy feeds values. Energy plus values creates wealth.

Corporations frustrate the four freedoms by their very nature. No matter how deftly they are handled, they limit the right to know, to go, to do, and to be.

It is only by giving loyalty to your customers that you can get loyalty back in return, and it is only by recognizing that customers are under no obligation to give their loyalty that you can hold on to it day by day.
How do you prove your loyalty to customers? Not by pursuing customer loyalty, but by being loyal to your customers. In a customer-loyal world, your first concern is someone who purchased your product, not someone who might do so, because that customer with the product is now your best and cheapest billboard. In a customer-loyal world, you thank your customers, not in expectation of what they might do in the future, but for what they have done in the past. And in a customer-loyal world, you make your own value structure isomorphic with the value structure of your customer base.

To structure a business so that it meets its customers’ real lives, make the ownership of a customer relationship a fundamental part of the creation of the business itself.

Best of all, maybe, you build scarcity into products by individualizing them for the individual realities that collectively compose today’s marketplace. By becoming, in effect, a component editor for your customers, you allow them to create their own individual realities instead of imposing a collective reality on them. Nothing, finally, could be more scarce than that.

Instead of the old rules of social behavior that required us to build relationships based on a reciprocal self-disclosure of information, we build them instead on a systematic sharing of information in the service of the deal at hand. And when the deal is done, we all walk away.

… pseudo-intellectuals actively pursue an entry in Who’s Who, while real intellectuals flee from such exposure. Why? Because it is in the culture of the tribe of pseudo-intellectuals to want recognition – recognition is the validation of their pursuit – while it is in the tribal culture of real intellectuals to be eternal outsiders.

The rules of such exceptional intelligence are very simple for children: Never acknowledge it, not even to yourself, and never flaunt it in from of others. Yet very smart children almost inevitably know they are very smart, and from an early age. They understand things before other children even begin to grasp the question, and they are too smart to miss that fact. Other children see it too, and being to organize their own tribes in defense against such intelligence.
Thus is born what is known as the “dilemma of the genuinely talented individual”. And thus, too, arises the fundamental ethic of the tribe of true intellectuals: never pursue celebrity and never care what others think about you.

… “privilege” implies conspicuous consumption when it is inconspicuous consumption, stealth wealth, and downward nobility that are helping to drive the dynamic of the marketplace today.

Avoid the activity trap. Manage choices out of your life, not into it. In the storm of information washing over you, realize that only a tiny fraction of it is germane to your own goals and that it is that tiny fraction on which you absolutely have to concentrate. Take a nap, catch an afternoon matinee. Conserve energy and you’ll have more of it for the things that really matter. You’re the boss; you’ll make sure you get the job done on time. That’s freedom, too.

… the ones most likely to have achieved satisfaction – the ones most likely to have internalized that they don’t have to overspend their capability in order to achieve very high levels of social and self-esteem – are people who are living ordinary lives extraordinarily.

Stop thinking of your customers as a mass market and start thinking of them as a mass of individual collectors.

In an age in which raw intelligence is the most prized commodity, being thought stupid is the greatest fear. Making customers feel stupid is the worst sin a business can commit.

What does risk management mean at a personal level? That the only way to manage risk is to embrace it. That the only way to cope with risk is to swim in it, dance with it, let it happen. A victim says that the world is at fault for exposing me to this risk. A thrivalist – a person who not just survives but thrives – says that every risk is an opportunity.

… even if you are not robbed or shot or bombed or vandalized during your adult life, even if you somehow escape the mortal lock, the only way to survive in a chaos-based world is to be 100 percent prepared for all those things to happen. Ducking for cover and planning for disaster aren’t just exercises for the nuclear generation. Today they are exercises for sustained reality – and for corporations more so than any other single entity.

Take out a sheet of paper. Write down the ten worst things that could happen to your business in the next five hundred days, the next five hundred weeks, and then start acting as if they will happen, because in a chaos world they or something very similar will.

Write down where your own business’s moats are, where and how fortified your castle walls are, where the intellectual property of your company – its secrets, its private systems – is stored, who has the key, and how many keys there are.

The best thing to do when you are lost is wait to be found.

Our advice: Find your own sacred site, not ours, a place where you can sit on the edge and look back to the center. There is no greater clarity to be found anywhere.

Listen, escape your own white noise, and you’ll be astounded by what you will hear.

It is only by concentrating on the inevitability of disaster that you can free yourself to pursue the fruits of possibility.

The critical issue in planning today is not how to get there. The critical issue is where you want to be.

It is not products per se that consumers want. Products are everywhere, generally at deep discounts. In a world starved for scarcity, uniqueness gains value. And it is only by focusing on points of distinction that you can produce uniqueness within your category.

Nothing holds you back but the reluctance to exercise your own Freedom to do, and beyond that, there can be no asking for more.