Category Archives: Social change
Changing the society
You are a classy lady and I have nothing but respect for you. Despite becoming a movie star at a very young age, you’ve avoided child star stereotypes, graduated from Brown University, and even got certified to teach yoga and meditation.
So, it is not my intent to discredit you in any way, I just want to express my views about your speech as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Hopefully, some constructive public discourse will come out of it.
In that speech you declared yourself to be a feminist, because you believe that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Nothing to object here. Overall, you gave a good speech, and I’m all for giving rural African girls access to secondary education.
But asking why feminism has become such an uncomfortable word, and then not exploring this question any further, is not very helpful.
In my view, there are two problems with modern-day feminism, at least in the Western world.
The first is a misuse of the term gender equality, which should mean solely that a discrimination on account of sex is prohibited. Men and women should have equal rights and opportunities, but that does not mean that the social outcome should always be exactly the same for both sexes. Some feminists would disagree strongly, because they believe all gender roles are socially imposed. They do not consider a possibility that some differences between men and women are innate. What a typical girl wants or desires may be different from what a typical guy does, not only because of the culture, but because she was born with different drives as well. Recognizing the fact that men and women are not identical has some implications on what a public policy should be. As Steven Pinker puts it in a chapter on gender:
“Eliminating discrimination against women is important, but believing that women and men are born with indistinguishable minds is not. Freedom of choice is important, but ensuring that women make up exactly 50 percent of all professions is not.”
The second problem with feminism is that it perpetuates “us vs. them” mentality in women who become strongly identified with it. This may or may not be the case for the majority of self-proclaimed feminists, but there are extremists who definitely have this mentality. How does this happen?
Feminism aims for equal rights and opportunities, but it also presupposes that it’s women who are being systematically oppressed by the patriarchy. While this assumption is historically correct, and still pretty much the case in a large part of the world, it’s becoming increasingly counterproductive to think in those terms. A feminist’s identity is defined in part by belonging to a group that is being oppressed, and on a deep subconscious level, people want their identity to be validated at all times. When evidence of actual oppression of women becomes scarce, a confirmation bias will kick in, and the mind will manufacture false evidence of oppression in order to confirm this view of the world. Thus, the less gender inequality that there is in a society, the crazier the movement will become to justify its existence.
I think that this movement cannot reach its end goal intact. It will either have to transform itself into something that’s impartial (gender egalitarianism), or it will become ever more counterproductive and possibly disintegrate.
The above is my personal opinion and I don’t claim to have any expertise in this field. You could easily dismiss it as a psychobabble.
However, Emma, you said it yourself that your research has shown you that feminism has become an unpopular word. I think that it is essential that you investigate this further and find out why. Maybe you will be able to reject my writing with an alternative explanation. If so, I will be honoured to lose an argument to an Ivy League graduate – I won’t feel humiliated to be defeated by a woman.
Ultimately, though, we can both agree that the idea of having equal rights and opportunities for men and women is the most important thing here. Your speech clearly was a step in that direction. So, I wish you plenty of success working as a Goodwill Ambassador, and may the Force be with you.
Oh shit, wrong movie.
Matej (Matt) P.
References and further reading:
- Emma Watson to United Nations: I’m a feminist: http://youtu.be/c9SUAcNlVQ4
- Steven Pinker, 2002. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (Chapter 18: Gender)
“An open letter to Emma Watson regarding her U.N. speech” by TCW is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
A few days ago I stumbled upon an important project in the making: a feature documentary film about the sharing economy movement, titled “Shareconomy”. Two key people working on this film are co-directors-producers Greg Westhoff and Jillian Suleski.
This film will follow the rise of the sharing economy movement, the legal and regulatory issues and battles bubbling up across the United States and the world, as well as very personal stories of transformation through sharing. The film will feature thought leaders, CEOs, economists, legislators, sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, sharing economy entrepreneurs, and more. They will scrutinize both the benefits and the drawbacks of the sharing economy.
The sharing economy (also called the peer-to-peer or collaborative economy) has a lot of potential to reduce resource consumption and thus hopefully represents a step towards a sustainable society.
Here you can watch a sample reel of already produced footage:
The film crew is currently more than 10 months into the production phase and have already conducted more than 50 interviews. Last month they have launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo in order to secure enough funds to continue with the production.
I believe that this topic warrants a thorough examination, so I donated a small amount of money to their crowdfunding effort myself, and I invite you to do the same (or at least share this post with your friends).
Indiegogo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/shareconomy
Official site: http://www.shareconomythemovie.com
Last week, I had an opportunity to meet John Croft, a co-founder of Dragon Dreaming.
Dragon Dreaming is a project management system that offers methods for the realization of creative, collaborative and sustainable projects and organizations, built upon three principles:
- personal growth – commitment to your own healing and empowerment
- community building – strengthening the communities of which you are a part
- service to the Earth – enhancing the well-being and flourishing of all life
The Dragon Dreaming process consists of four steps:
During the press conference/interview I was able to ask John Croft a few questions and below is the transcript of his answers to a couple of them:
Me: What is the essence of Dragon Dreaming? I know that it has four phases. How does it compare with other systems?
John Croft: Most of the systems of project management that you read [about], they start with building a vision for the future of the project – they start by building a vision, a mission, and then goals, and then objectives, and then a strategy, and then activities, and then tactics, and then evaluation. Those sorts of management theories tend to be very linear and incredibly left brain. What we found, with Dragon Dreaming, is that they only deal with half of the person. They deal with the planning and the doing stages of projects, but when you look at the origin of projects – all projects start in a dream.
It’s a dream that begins the motivation. And conventional management theories don’t talk about dreaming. Hardly at all. They don’t recognize the contradictory… The nature of dreaming is not a linear, logical, rational process. It is completely nonlinear, non-rational, non-logical. But, it’s a source of creativity, it’s a source of innovation, it’s a source of change, that it all comes out of a dream.
And then they think that once they’ve created the project and the project is done, that’s the finish. And they forget that 25% of every project needs to be celebration. By ignoring celebration, the projects – the conventional projects you see: they’re projects of control, they’re projects of bureaucracies trying to force people into doing things that the people don’t want to do.
We need to build celebration into every stage of the process, and if there is one thing that Dragon Dreaming does, it attaches a new importance to the process of celebration. And so, what we find is that as we get in touch with celebration, with dreaming, we’re not just working with the left hemisphere of our brain, we are working with our whole brain. We’re working with the whole of a person, and the more we can liberate the wholeness that is in source of all of us, the more we can liberate the dreams, and the ceremonies, and the celebrations and the stories that are associated with who you are as a person, the more you liberate the creativity that lies at the heart of every individual. And given the problems that we’re facing in the world today – in terms of financial crisis, in terms of climate change, in terms of global warming, in terms of peak oil, in terms of the extinction of species – we need to liberate the creativity on a scale that has never before been attempted on the planet. Only by liberating the creativity that lies at the heart of every single person – man, woman and child – will we be able to generate sufficient enthusiasm and joy and playfulness that we need to create a sort of future that works for everyone on the planet. And by “everyone”, I’m not just talking about human beings, I’m talking about more than human world that we’re embedding – the world of the living planet itself.
Me: What would be successful examples of dreaming and celebration?
John Croft: Wow. We say, every project ever done in the world starts as the dream of one person. One of the things I said this morning, I said him, is that 90% of projects get stuck in the dreaming stage. And the reason why is people don’t share their dreams. What happens is people learn that dreams don’t come true. Because in the conventional [inaudible] world dreams do not come true. And so, what happens is people lose their dreaming. And you can see it in people’s faces. If you look at the quiet desperation in people in peak hour traffic in the city – just look at their faces, you see people who’ve lost their dream. And they’re just existing from day to day. So, the first step to do, is to recover your dreaming.
And with celebration, is that it’s celebration where people come to see that they are recognized for their contribution, they are recognized for the changes that they have made. And they are deeply honored and deeply celebrated as a result. You may know the movie Avatar. There’s a scene in the movie Avatar when the Na’vi alien woman turns to the human avatar and she says: I see you. It’s the process of truly being seen, which is the source of unconditional love. When you are deeply seen for who you are, that’s the source of the unconditional loving, in action, on which Dragon Dreaming is based.
Following the interview, John Croft gave a public presentation about the basic principles of Dragon Dreaming. During his lecture he emphasized once again about the importance of celebration, the fourth stage in this system. He said that in order to avoid “burnout”, it is absolutely necessary that we refuel ourselves with celebration regularly. One of the key insights that Dragon Dreaming offers, is that “if it is not playful, it is not sustainable”.
If you want to lean more about Dragon Dreaming, go to www.dragondreaming.org.
As I have said in this post, I believe that the future of activism depends on bringing various groups together, finding common ground, and making a few compromises along the way.
So, I have been thinking then about finding the common ground between liberal and conservative activists. And to be able to find a common ground I had to first define what separates these two groups. Below is my best guess about the essence of liberal/left-wing and conservative/right-wing activism:
Left-wing activism: Government is the solution. We need better regulations and put in charge the right people to implement them.
Right-wing activism: Government is the problem. We need less regulations because only powerful people have enough means to jump through their hoops, which creates a system rigged against the little guy.
Add to this political corruption and you get even more unfair system, in which people with enough influence and resources can get preferential regulation and treatment from the government.
Anacharsis, a philosopher from the 6th century BC, said something very similar:
“Written laws are like spiders’ webs; they will catch, it is true, the weak and poor, but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful.”
Left-wing activists want to make spider web stronger, so that bigger flies could also be caught. Conversely, right-wing activists want to make spider web weaker and thus level the playing field.
The above are primarily observations about the outlook on the economic issues; many right-wingers have a different view on government regulation concerning moral and social issues. For example, they may be in favor of free market, but simultaneously support a state ban on marijuana. (Libertarians, though, are more or less consistently against any government regulation).
I can somewhat understand right-wing position, because I believe that having a bad regulation is usually worse than having no regulation at all. However, I still think that a good regulation can in fact be the best option most of the time.
Consider this analogy: if you want to weight two objects it is helpful to have an accurate scale. However, it is incredibly unhelpful if your scale is rigged. Indeed, you would be better off if you had no scale at all – that way you wouldn’t get false figures and you could still weight the objects by hand and roughly tell which is heavier.
So, the catch with government regulation is that it is incredibly difficult to foresee if a particular regulation will have a positive effect or not, and even small details can make a huge difference in the end. As they say, the devil is in the detail.
Since the effects of regulating certain activities are so unpredictable, we have to be prepared to constantly evaluate all regulations and adjust them through trial-and-error. And in some cases we may find that the best option is indeed to have no regulations in that particular field. In other cases we may be able to find a good one. Therefore I subscribe to neither the left-wing nor to right-wing way; I believe that the best option is to decide on a case by case basis.
The success or failure of a particular regulation depends on the nature of incentives and disincentives that are introduced to society with this regulation. And in some cases, or to some extent, the natural incentives of a free market may prove to be better than anything government could come up with.
I don’t know if this can be a common ground for liberals and conservatives – the notion that we generally can’t make a priori assumptions on whether a government regulation will be good or bad. The details of any regulation and its implementation will determine whether it will turn out to be a good or a bad one, but we can hardly predict an outcome, if at all. It is therefore desirable to enact disparate solutions in different jurisdictions, observe the results, and adjust as needed.
Honestly, I doubt that this will convince many people, but I had to express my beliefs. I still hope that some other, more practical common ground between liberal and conservative activism will be found. Personally, I’m out of ideas – the split between them seems insurmountable. However, if you have any helpful suggestions, please leave a comment below.
Did you miss previous parts?
The government exists for specific reasons and has certain powers that enable it to function and achieve its goals. However, the nature of its power is that it has to be contained, or else it will naturally want to expand. If a government becomes too strong it can lead to all sorts of problems and abuses. Government should therefore have no more power than what is necessary to carry out its duties, and the structure of government has to safeguard us from unwarranted acquisition of power.
The principle of separation of powers
It is almost universally accepted now that a democratic government needs to have separation of powers, which means that the government has to be divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility. The common division of branches is into a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. A system of checks and balances that governs interactions between them ensures that no branch of government can become too powerful: they limit each other, at least in principle.
Of course, any government can become corrupt. Constitutional safeguards can fail, in which case the division of power into branches becomes a dead letter on paper. Therefore it is crucial that we don’t put all of our eggs in one basket. The second major principle of balanced governance that we should employ is subsidiarity – an organizing principle of decentralization.
The principle of subsidiarity
The principle of subsidiarity states that a matter should be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority that is capable of addressing that matter in an effective way. This means that governance has to be distributed between the central, regional and local levels.
In the case of United States, which is a federal state, there is a balance of power between U.S. state governments and the federal government. The term states’ rights refers to political powers reserved for the states by the Constitution.
But no matter if a country is a federal or unitary state, we should aim for a strict adherence to the principle of subsidiarity – authorities of regional and local governments should be constitutionally protected and should cover all matters that could be effectively dealt with on a regional or local level.
Of course, there will always be a clash between central control and decentralization, and a trade-off between enforcing certain quality standards and having a freedom to do it your own way. But if we will choose to follow the principle of subsidiarity, we may find the optimal balance. And within that framework, people living in different jurisdictions could enact different solutions for the same problem, through a democratic process on a regional or local level. Local people often know best what is the right solution for their particular circumstances, and citizens could always vote with their feet and move elsewhere, to a different region or community, if they simply could not come to terms with the enacted solution.
The Goldilocks principle
The third major principle to consider is the Goldilocks principle. With regard to the power of government it means that a government should not be too powerful, and it should not lack the power necessary to perform its functions; its power should be “just right”.
When the power of government is just right we get an optimal balance between free market and government intervention. The same could be said for the balance between freedom and security. The government has the responsibility to maintain peace and order, but when it turns into an oppressive police state, then this balance is lost.
If we want to maintain a functional democracy it is absolutely essential that we preserve civil liberties granted by the constitution. In most modern states the constitution has supremacy over ordinary law, and the purpose of having such constitution is to set limits on government actions.
The government should be limited, not only to prevent tyranny, but also to minimize incentives for special interest groups to capture its power. The bigger the government is, the greater the possibilities for political corruption are. Of course, I’m not an anarchist or a libertarian, for reasons that I’ve already explained in previous posts, but I certainly don’t support full-fledged statism, either.
The great dilemma
So, we have a difficult situation now: probably all of us want that the power of government is “just right”, but we may not agree on the specifics of this arrangement. Some of us are more liberal, some are more conservative. Some people are afraid of terrorists, others fear police brutality. Some people want Big government to save them from Big business, others are convinced that Big business is the consequence of Big government. These differences are partially inborn, and partially result of different life experiences, which all leads to a biased outlook of the world.
And even if we could find and agree on “the sweet spot” (the Goldilocks zone), would that arrangement be stable? The real issue here is that the government is both the problem and the solution: one role of the government is to regulate corporations, so that they don’t engage in activities that cause collective harm, but this role becomes problematic the minute that special interest groups capture the government. Our quest for the optimal size of the government looks more and more like being between Scylla and Charybdis, and nothing like finding the sweet spot.
Many people have made similar observations as I have above, and some have even proposed radical solutions. The least radical proposal of all is the call for some form of direct democracy.
I think that direct democracy could eventually become extremely important on a local level, but a system of direct democracy on a regional and national levels would have some serious shortcomings to overcome: in a large political entity it is difficult for a system of decision making to include all three desirable characteristics: participation, equality, and deliberation (see Democratic reform trilemma). I believe that in the short run, a system of semi-direct democracy (representative democracy with instruments of direct democracy) such as the one in Switzerland, is more likely to be successful.
In the long run, electronic direct democracy (E-democracy) could perhaps prove viable, but I still wouldn’t prefer a pure form of direct democracy. First, I think that a much better option would be liquid democracy (a form of direct democracy where citizens can at anytime choose a proxy/delegate to vote on their behalf) – watch the video below for an explanation of liquid democracy, as well as a presentation of the Swiss model.
In addition, I believe that a mixed system that would also preserve some elements of representative democracy, would be the best of all, because it would provide a buffer against potential irrational swings of the electorate, and a safeguard against instability in the event that modern technology, on which E-democracy relies upon, fails for whatever reason.
Changing the paradigm
However, calls for democratic reforms in the direction of direct democracy miss the bigger picture. Direct democracy, no matter what its advantages may be, is still part of the concept of governance. As I have said, I’m not an anarchist, and I believe that there is a good reason for state to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. But, to expect that the problems associated with the misuse of governmental power could be completely solved within the framework of a government, is pretty naïve.
What is really needed is the strengthening of civil society, to act as a counterbalance to both the government and the Big business. That is going to be the focus of the next part.
Continue to Part 7. (coming soon)
Posted in Social change
Tags: balance, checks and balances, civil liberties, constitutional safeguards, decentralization, democratic process, direct democracy, free market, freedom, Goldilocks principle, government intervention, incentives, liquid democracy, political corruption, security, separation of powers, special interest groups, states’ rights, subsidiarity, trade-off