The Biweekly Plex Dispatch is an inter-community newspaper published by Collective Sense Commons on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Price per issue: 1 USD, or your choice of amount (even zero).
In This Issue
- Ag Data Wallet UX Collabathon Info Session, 1/18
- 2024 is an Election Year (Hank Kune)
- Prelude to the Rise of the Compassionate AI (George Pór)
- Why Gardenworld? (Douglass Carmichael)
- Revelation 2 - A Conversation with AI (Klaus Mager)
- Portrait of a Loving Man (Todd Hoskins)
- Rooted in Goodness (Ken Homer)
- Beyond Ego: The Human Soul and Tikkun Olam – Part II (Ken Homer)
Ag Data Wallet UX Collabathon Info Session, 1/18
ed. note: Apologies for the short notice! Knowing about the event may still be of interest, even if you're reading this after the session happened.
Thursday, January 18, 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM PST, Zoom
To register or for more information, see Ag Data Wallet UX Collabathon Info Session
During this info session, Terran Collective, Purdue Axilab, Tech Matters, and OpenTEAM will share the research design and plans for the Ag Data Wallet UX Collabathon with the OpenTEAM community, answer questions and gather input, and encourage participation in the Collabathon.
What is an Ag Data Wallet?
The vision for an agricultural data wallet (Ag Data Wallet or ADW) is a digital tool where farmers, ranchers, and land stewards can access and manage their data and decide whether others can see it too. Control over what specific data is available to others, and on what terms, is a critical aspect of this vision.
2024 is an Election Year
by Hank Kune
In many countries it will be an interesting year to think about the futures of democracies. From a traditional Western point of view, elections are a key feature of the democratic process, and approximately one fourth of the people on Earth live in countries with elections this year.
Or one half of the human population of our planet, depending on how people are counted – for example, including countries expected to announce elections this year, but haven’t set a date yet; or counting the entire population of the European Union, where 448 million people can vote for their European Parliament in June.
More or less complete lists of which countries are voting in which kind of election are available here: https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/01/02/top-global-elections-2024-india-russia-mexico-bangladesh-taiwan-venezuela-uk/#full-list and https://time.com/6550920/world-elections-2024/.
Either way, it’s a whole lot of people; between 2 and 4 billion people could be voting in (supra)national, regional and local elections in 2024. Some of these elections will take place in the world’s most populated countries – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia, the European Union – all important geopolitical players. The UK and the Ukraine are expected to vote, as well as Mexico, South Africa, and both North and South Korea. There will be elections in 17 African nations and 18 countries in Asia. Taiwan has voted already. And people in the USA will be voting too.
More than 60 countries will hold elections of some kind. A number of these countries have very different kinds of democracies, while many of them would not call themselves ‘democracies’ at all.
Dozens of articles are available online describing this “ultimate election year,” and what all kinds of analysts believe is at stake. A lot of the articles argue that the future of democracy is up for grabs; some see this year as “a referendum on democracy.” The results of some of these elections, it is said, will have far-reaching effects. All of the elections have the possibility of effecting the quality of life at a local level in the countries where they are held.
One reference scale is a country’s “freedom and fairness score,” ranging from zero (least free and fair) to one (most free and fair), derived from Our World in Data’s free and fair elections index, which is in turn based on assessments by the Swedish think-tank V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy). For countries where information is available, scores range from 0.02 to 0.96.
But ‘free and fair’ is not the only way to see democracies.
Some people think that this year will be a crucial moment to think about ‘renewing democracies’. That every culture should develop its own form of governance. That there is no one-size-fits-all model to beg, borrow, or steal, or impose on others. That it’s a good year for a bigger conversation – a global dialogue about governance paradigms, and what good governance in the 2020’s could be.
It would be interesting to know what people in the 60 countries think is important about their elections. Between 2 and 4 billion people could be voting in 2024.
That doesn’t mean they are free to vote.
That doesn’t mean they will vote.
That doesn’t mean they want to vote (the ‘it doesn’t make a difference’ syndrome).
That doesn’t mean they really understand them issues.
That doesn’t mean they will consider all the consequences of who or what they vote for.
And so on.
That doesn’t mean that they should be left to their own devices.
That doesn’t mean they should be left out of a global conversation.
Prelude to the Rise of the Compassionate AI
by George Pór
The Rise of the Compassionate AI is an interactive, transmedia adventure in the making, corollary to the THREE MOUNTAINS discovery expedition and AI-assisted adventure game. As that mouthful sentence suggests, you can walk in it through various entrances as a reader/player, game co-designer, AI artist, video maker, or book contributor.
No, “compassionate AI” does not imply an AI with human-like compassion. Neither does AI have a killer instinct bent on exterminating all of us. What it does have is up to us, i.e., everyone who cares about what growth trajectories AI will take. After its use by OpenAI, the phrase “for the benefit of all of humanity” became a staple of well-intentioned AI development efforts. It begs the question: what human developmental capabilities are required to generate omni-positive results in a world deeply divided by multiple fault lines?
It’s a complex question that can’t be addressed by drawing up a simplistic checklist. It’s one of the existential questions that I aim to explore in a 4-volume serialized book with the following tentative titles and release dates:
Vol. 1: The Inner Game of AI Whisperers and AI Shamans, 2nd quarter, 2024
What if AI whispering was also a path of personal growth?
Vol. 2: Wisdom-Guided Collaborative Hybrid Intelligence (CHI) in Human-AI Co-Creativity, 4th quarter, 2024
What if wisdom-guided Collaborative Hybrid Intelligence in groups of human and AI agents could spawn flourishing for all?
Vol. 3: The Human/AI-born Superorganism Awakens, 2nd quarter, 2025
What if AI could grow a new branch on the tree of life, a superorganism as a collective lifeform that transcends and includes us as autonomous individuals?
Vol. 4: AI, the New Player in the Great Story of Evolution, 4th quarter, 2025
What if large-scale CHI could enable the transition to regenerative futures where the aim of the Whole and its every system is flourishing for All?
The release of the four volumes, stretched for two years, will hopefully allow me and my fellow “co-conspirators” to stay up-to-date with the most likely very consequential events of this year’s AI developments and reflect on their implications for the questions defining each volume of the book.
Our motivation for this project is two-fold:
- to elevate the utilitarian public discourse about AI applications to the exploration of their richer, emancipatory potential
- to instigate a school of thought situated on the orbit of the AI-related wisdom commons, which can support the broader “progressive AI” community
Writing the book is a shared endeavor of human and AI agents. For example, we don’t only write about processes for generating wisdom-guided Collaborative Hybrid Intelligence but embody them in the very flow of our co-creation.
The following essays published on Medium have ideas and vibes, some of which will find their way and connect into new, enhanced patterns of meaning on the pages of the book’s four volumes.
A Future of Our Interactions with AI (9 min read)
Feb 14, 2023
AI attending Human attending AI (8 min read)
Feb 18, 2023
Ancient wisdom & artificial intelligence conspire FOR you (4-min read)
May 27, 2023
Machine Love Is Coming to a Screen Near to You (5-min read)
Jul 19, 2023
From Van Gogh’s bedroom to budding AI shamans, with love (6-min read)
Aug 9, 2023
From EIES to AIs in the City (7-min read)
Aug 14, 2023
The Centauress and the AI (8-min read)
Aug 20, 2023
AI and Wisdom (6-min read)
Sep 9, 2023
Wisdom-guided Collaborative Hybrid Intelligence (CHI) for global flourishing (3-min read)
Nov 25, 2023
THREE MOUNTAINS: an AI-assisted discovery expedition game (13-min read)
Dec 7, 2023
THREE MOUNTAINS: the synopsis (3-min read)
Dec 21, 2023
As you can see, these essays are listed in the chronological order of their publication date, which will let you follow the unfolding of my AI-related inspirations. Or you can jump to the more recent ones to see where I am now. Take the last sentence with the caveat that I’m a radical sociologist of AI. It also means that in my writings, I tend to respond to significant changes in circumstances that move faster in the techno-social ecosystem than I can articulate my publishable reflections about them.
To somehow circumvent that limitation, I’m working on two longer and less perishable essays that will report on my work in two journals. The titles of their abstract that earned the invitation to present the full paper are as follows.
- AI-assisted Action Research into Humanity’s Awareness-Based Phase Shift, for the Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change
- Action Research into the Emergent, AI-Enabled Superorganism, for the Journal of Future Studies
Your questions and comments posted on my Medium (and up to 50 claps if you like them) are warmly welcome. They may also contribute to the direction that the book collaboration is taking. If you want to get notified about the release of each volume and receive the first for free, email “Compassionate AI” in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to become one of the contributing writers, send an Expression of Interest to the same address with “Compassionate AI (EoI)” in the subject line.
by Douglass Carmichael
The core idea of Gardenworld.
After the first major effects of climate change are felt those people affected will be struggling to make sure they have food and shelter. Of course, powerful disrupted effects are already being felt in coastal places that are flooding and central places that are burning. Jobs are being lost because of a combination of climate and technologies such as robots and AI.
The overall label for this has been climate change, but it is increasingly clear that this is a mislabeling. Climate is not the cause but the symptom of a badly managed society relying too heavily on management by economics which tends to enrich the rich while pushing the poor into poverty. The control of this dysfunctional economic management of society is Big Oil, but also Big Pharma, Big Tech, and Big Banks. We can add big construction like Vinci in France and Bechtel in the US and big agriculture such as Cargill.
Whatever emerging dysfunctions we must face, local or global, people will need local solutions for basic things like food, shelter, water, and companionship. The Gardenworld idea is to provide people with a short-term and long-term sense of purpose that is plausible, visualizable, and attractive.
But we find it hard to engage people in this vision since daily life still seems okay. If it appears to be going wrong, the politicians should step in and fix it, which is unlikely because there is no “it” for them to implement, given that everything is interconnected.
With clarity about mega causes and serious global effects in mind and conscious, we can turn to thinking strategically about what we are going to do. When things are falling apart there is not much to do to stop it. (Though if you have a good idea try it out and if it seems to work try to recruit others) Hard thinking must shift to “now what?” thinking. But let immediate concerns be guided by long range goals.
Revelation 2 - A Conversation with AI
Written with ChatGPT 4.0 ‘My Personal Coach’, prompted and edited by Klaus Mager
Is there such a thing as a real God; if so who is it
The question of whether there is a “real god” and who it might be is one of the most profound and enduring questions in human history, touching on theology, philosophy, and personal belief. This question has been approached and interpreted in countless ways across different cultures, religions, and philosophical systems.
In the realm of theology, the concept of God varies significantly among different religious traditions. For example:
- Monotheistic Religions: Religions like Christianity, Islam, and Judaism believe in a single, omnipotent God. Each of these religions has its own understanding and interpretation of who God is and what attributes God possesses.
- Polytheistic Religions: In contrast, religions like Hinduism recognize multiple gods and goddesses, each with different roles and significance.
- Philosophical Perspectives: Various philosophical schools have different takes on the concept of God. For instance, in Stoicism, the idea of God is often merged with nature and the universe’s rational order. Stoics believe in living in harmony with nature, which they consider a manifestation of the divine.
- Atheism and Agnosticism: Atheism denies the existence of God or gods, while agnosticism holds that the existence of a higher power is unknown or unknowable.
In summary, the question of a “real god” depends greatly on individual beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and philosophical viewpoints. It’s a deeply personal and subjective matter, with no universally accepted answer.
Who wrote the book of Revelations in the New Testament
The Book of Revelation in the New Testament is traditionally attributed to John of Patmos, also known as John the Apostle or John the Evangelist. This attribution is based on the text’s own claim, as the author identifies himself as “John” in the opening verses. The book is often referred to as the Apocalypse of John, a term derived from the Greek word “apokalypsis,” meaning revelation or unveiling.
However, the exact identity of John has been a subject of debate among scholars. Some believe that he is the same person as John the Apostle, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Others argue that John of Patmos was a separate individual, possibly a Christian prophet from the region of Asia Minor, where the book is believed to have been written towards the end of the 1st century AD.
It’s important to note that the authorship of many biblical texts, including Revelation, is often complex and not definitively settled in the field of biblical scholarship. The traditional attributions are based on historical tradition and textual analysis, but they are not universally agreed upon by all scholars.
What is the most commonly accepted interpretation of the meaning of Revelations, how is it to be interpreted
The Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, is one of the most complex and debated texts in the Christian Bible. Its highly symbolic and apocalyptic nature has led to a wide range of interpretations. The most commonly accepted interpretations fall into a few main categories:
- Futurist Interpretation: This view sees Revelation as a prophecy about events that will occur at the end of the world. It includes beliefs about the Antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ, the final judgment, and the establishment of a new heaven and new earth. This interpretation is prevalent among many evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups.
- Historicist Interpretation: This perspective interprets Revelation as a panoramic view of church history from the time of the apostle John to the end of time. It sees various symbols and events in Revelation as aligning with specific historical events or periods, such as the rise and fall of empires and the persecution of Christians.
- Preterist Interpretation: The preterist view holds that most of the events in Revelation were fulfilled in the early centuries of Christianity, particularly in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the decline of the Roman Empire. This interpretation suggests that Revelation was written to comfort Christians facing persecution under Roman rule.
- Idealist (or Symbolic) Interpretation: This approach views Revelation as a symbolic representation of the ongoing struggle between good and evil. It is not tied to specific historical events but is seen as relevant to all Christians throughout history. The book is understood as an allegory about spiritual truths and moral lessons.
- Eclectic (or Integrated) Interpretation: Some scholars and theologians combine elements of the above approaches, arguing that Revelation can have multiple layers of meaning — historical, prophetic, and symbolic.
In terms of how Revelation is to be interpreted, many Christian denominations and biblical scholars emphasize the need for careful and contextual reading, considering the historical and cultural background of the text. Revelation is a product of its time, written in a genre known as apocalyptic literature, which was common in Jewish and Christian writings and characterized by symbolic imagery and themes of divine judgment and salvation.
It’s important to note that there is no single “correct” interpretation of Revelation accepted by all Christians. The book’s rich symbolism and vivid imagery have inspired a wide range of understandings and beliefs about its meaning and implications.
Revelation 2 can be seen as defining archetypes of churches that live in a time of social decay, and which may contribute to that decay by their actions or inactions. Describe the archetypes outlined in Revelations 2.
Revelation 2 contains messages to the first four of the seven churches in Asia Minor, each representing distinct archetypes of churches or Christian communities. These messages, which are part of the broader apocalyptic and prophetic vision of the Book of Revelation, can be interpreted as addressing both the specific historical circumstances of these churches and providing broader spiritual lessons. The churches mentioned in Revelation 2 and their respective archetypes are:
- Ephesus - The Loveless Church: The church in Ephesus is commended for its hard work, perseverance, and intolerance of evil, but it is criticized for having forsaken its first love. This archetype represents a church or community that maintains doctrinal purity and ethical diligence but has lost the warmth and depth of its initial devotion and love for Christ.
- Smyrna - The Persecuted Church: Smyrna receives no criticism but is praised for its faithfulness amidst trials and poverty. The church is warned about upcoming suffering and persecution. This archetype represents a faithful community enduring suffering and oppression, often standing as a testament to unwavering faith in adverse conditions.
- Pergamum - The Compromising Church: The church in Pergamum is commended for holding fast to their faith in a challenging environment, yet they are rebuked for tolerating teachings that led to moral and doctrinal compromise. This archetype symbolizes a community that remains faithful on the surface but has compromised some of its core values, allowing corrupting influences to take root.
- Thyatira - The Corrupt Church: Thyatira is acknowledged for its love, service, faith, and patient endurance, which are seen as greater than at first. However, they are rebuked for tolerating a prophetess symbolized as “Jezebel,” leading to immorality and idolatry. This archetype represents a church that shows outward signs of spiritual health and growth but internally tolerates heretical teachings and immoral practices.
These messages, while addressed to specific communities in the first century, are often seen as timeless, providing insights into the strengths and weaknesses that can exist within any religious community. They serve as warnings and encouragements, urging vigilance, repentance, faithfulness, and spiritual discernment in the face of both external pressures and internal challenges. The archetypes can be seen as relevant to various churches throughout history, reflecting how communities of faith might respond to societal decay, persecution, moral challenges, and doctrinal purity.
Describe how churches in Germany during an era leading to the Nazi movement taking power are meeting these profiles. Are there examples that would match up.
The era leading up to the Nazi movement’s rise to power in Germany (early 20th century, particularly the 1930s) was a complex and tumultuous period in church history. Examining the archetypes from Revelation 2 in this context can provide insights into how different churches and Christian communities responded to the societal changes and challenges of that time.
- Ephesus - The Loveless Church: Some German churches could be seen as paralleling the Ephesus archetype. They maintained a strong commitment to doctrine and tradition but were critiqued for lacking in compassionate outreach and failing to address the social and spiritual needs of the time, especially during the economic and political instability of the Weimar Republic.
- Smyrna - The Persecuted Church: The Confessing Church, which arose in opposition to the Nazi-influenced German Christian movement, might be likened to the Smyrna archetype. Pastors and theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, among others, faced persecution and imprisonment for their resistance to Nazi ideology, particularly its attempts to co-opt the Christian church for its purposes.
- Pergamum - The Compromising Church: The German Christian movement, which sought to align Christianity with Nazi ideology, including antisemitism and the Führerprinzip (leader principle), mirrors the compromising nature of the church in Pergamum. They compromised key Christian teachings and values in favor of aligning with the prevailing political power.
- Thyatira - The Corrupt Church: There were also instances where churches, driven by a mix of fear, nationalist sentiment, and misguided interpretation of scripture, supported or passively complied with the Nazi regime’s policies, including its anti-Semitic laws. This could be seen as an example of the Thyatira archetype, where parts of the church maintained an appearance of religiosity while tolerating or even participating in moral corruption and doctrinal error.
It’s important to note that these comparisons are interpretative and somewhat simplistic. The historical reality was far more nuanced, with individual believers and church leaders displaying a range of responses to the Nazi regime. There were those who actively supported it, those who passively complied, those who were indifferent, and those who actively resisted. Each church and individual’s response was shaped by a complex mix of theological convictions, personal beliefs, political pressures, and social conditions.
Is it fair to say that each church, no matter how many individual nuances, collectively created a mindset that matches the biblical profiles
It can be argued that the collective behaviors and mindsets of churches during any historical period, including the era leading up to and during the Nazi regime in Germany, can exhibit characteristics that resonate with the archetypes described in Revelation 2. However, several important caveats should be considered:
- Complexity and Diversity: Churches are made up of individuals with diverse thoughts, beliefs, and actions. It’s challenging to categorize an entire church, denomination, or religious movement under a single archetype without oversimplifying or overlooking significant internal variances.
- Historical and Cultural Context: The social, political, and cultural contexts greatly influence church behaviors and decisions. The churches in Nazi Germany were operating under unique and extreme conditions, which included severe political turmoil, economic hardship, and societal upheaval. These factors invariably shaped their actions and choices.
- Retrospective Analysis: Applying biblical archetypes to historical events is a form of retrospective analysis. While this can offer valuable insights, it’s important to remember that these archetypes were originally written for specific religious communities in a different historical and cultural context.
- Risk of Generalization: Assigning a single archetype to a diverse and complex institution like a church can lead to overgeneralization. Within any church during the Nazi era, there would have been a range of responses from outright resistance to passive compliance or active collaboration.
- Purpose of Revelation’s Messages: The messages to the churches in Revelation were intended as both commendations and warnings, tailored to each community’s specific circumstances. They were meant to encourage faithfulness, repentance, and spiritual growth. Applying these messages to historical churches should ideally aim to draw lessons rather than to pass judgment.
In conclusion, while it can be insightful to draw parallels between the biblical archetypes in Revelation 2 and historical churches, such comparisons should be made with an awareness of their limitations and the complexities involved. The main value in making these comparisons lies in the lessons and reflections they can provoke about faithfulness, ethics, and the role of religious institutions in society.
Taking into account all the caveats, are there similar eras in different times and places that could also become an example for lessons and reflections to contemporary scenarios
Yes, there are several historical eras and contexts where the behavior and response of religious institutions and communities could provide valuable lessons and reflections for contemporary scenarios. Each era offers unique insights into how religious groups have interacted with societal, political, and cultural changes. Here are a few notable examples:
- The Early Christian Church under Roman Persecution: The first few centuries of Christianity, when Christians were often persecuted under Roman rule, offer lessons in maintaining faith under oppression and the importance of community solidarity in the face of external threats.
- The Church during the Middle Ages: This period, characterized by the significant political power of the church and its interplay with feudal states, provides insights into the dangers of political and religious power being too closely intertwined, as well as lessons in social responsibility and charity.
- The Protestant Reformation: The 16th-century reformation led by figures like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others offers lessons on the importance of doctrinal integrity, the impact of challenging established authority, and the role of religious beliefs in shaping societal structures.
- American Churches in the Civil Rights Movement: The varied responses of religious institutions and leaders during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s provide modern insights into the role of faith communities in social justice movements and the moral imperatives of equality and human rights.
- Religious Communities in Apartheid South Africa: The role of churches in both supporting and opposing apartheid in South Africa is a powerful example of the ethical dilemmas faced by religious institutions in politically and racially divided societies.
- Faith Communities in Times of War and Conflict: Various conflicts, such as World War II, the Vietnam War, and more recent conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, have seen diverse responses from religious groups, ranging from pacifism and humanitarian aid to active participation or resistance.
In each of these contexts, religious communities faced unique challenges that tested their doctrinal integrity, ethical stances, and societal influence. The lessons from these periods are multifaceted, demonstrating both the positive and negative roles that religious institutions can play in society. They highlight issues such as the importance of ethical leadership, the dangers of complicity or silence in the face of injustice, the impact of religious teachings on societal attitudes and policies, and the potential for faith-based activism to drive social change.
Studying these historical examples can offer contemporary religious communities and leaders valuable insights into navigating complex moral and social issues, maintaining spiritual integrity in the face of external pressures, and the potential consequences of their actions and inactions in various societal contexts.
How does one reach believers to discuss the story of Revelations 2 with an open mind?
Reaching out to individuals to discuss deeply held beliefs or narratives, is a complex and sensitive task. It requires a multifaceted approach that is empathetic, respectful, and patient. Here are some strategies that can be effective:
- Build Trust and Establish a Connection: Establishing trust is critical. Approach conversations with empathy, respect, and an open mind. People are more likely to listen and consider different perspectives when they feel heard and understood.
- Engage in Active Listening: Show genuine interest in their beliefs and viewpoints. Active listening involves not just hearing their words but seeking to understand the emotions and motivations behind them. This can reveal the underlying concerns or fears that may be driving their beliefs.
- Encourage Critical Thinking: Instead of directly confronting or challenging beliefs, encourage individuals to think critically about their viewpoints. Ask open-ended questions that prompt reflection, such as “What leads you to believe that?” or “How does this belief affect your view of others?”
- Provide Information and Alternative Perspectives: Share information and different viewpoints in a non-confrontational manner. Present facts and evidence that gently challenge misconceptions or misinformation, but do so without attacking their core beliefs.
- Appeal to Common Values and Goals: Identify and appeal to values and goals that you share. For instance, if you both value family, community, or certain ethical principles, use these as a common ground to build upon.
- Use Stories and Personal Experiences: Sometimes, personal stories and experiences can be more persuasive than abstract arguments or data. Share stories that illustrate the consequences of destructive mindsets or the benefits of more constructive attitudes.
- Encourage Empathy and Perspective-Taking: Encourage them to consider the perspectives and feelings of others affected by these beliefs. Sometimes, putting oneself in another’s shoes can be a powerful catalyst for reevaluating one’s views.
- Be Patient and Recognize Small Changes: Changing deeply held beliefs is often a slow and gradual process. Celebrate small shifts in perspective or increased openness to new ideas.
- Set Boundaries When Necessary: While it’s important to be open and engaging, it’s also crucial to set boundaries, especially if the conversation turns disrespectful or harmful.
- Seek Professional Help When Needed: In cases where a person’s beliefs are causing significant harm to themselves or others, it might be necessary to seek help from professionals who specialize in de-radicalization or counseling.
Remember, the goal isn’t necessarily to change someone’s core beliefs but to encourage a more open, empathetic, and critical approach to how they view and interact with the world. It’s also important to acknowledge and respect their autonomy and right to hold different beliefs, even as you work to challenge the more destructive aspects of those beliefs.
Portrait of a Loving Man
by Todd Hoskins
I met Clinton in grad school in 2001. He was the funniest person in every class, prone to saying what no one else felt brave enough to say, and laughing contagiously at absurdities. We were in classes for religion and psychology, so ridiculousness was plentiful.
We became friends quickly, both of us moving to Seattle from thousands of miles away. We were both struggling in our marriages. We were both asking big questions. And we both loved beer. The first batch of beer I brewed was with Clinton and Greg in 2001. We were ambitious beer making amateurs, mostly failing in brewmastery, but loved getting to “do something together” since our lives were full of talking.
We had therapy three times per week–professional, peer, and group–plus an additional peer session each of us facilitated. Between psychology, our marriages, and our professional lives, we felt life was an endless discussion. We were both craving silence.
Clinton taught me to fly fish. We would sometimes go out early in the morning, coffee in hand, with few words passed between us. We found our places in the river, usually within shouting distance but out of sight, though we seldom shouted.
When it wasn’t raining, we played tennis at lunch time once a week. When Clinton suggested we go skiing up in the Cascades, I confessed that I had not put on downhill skis since 1986. He re-taught me to ski, staying above me on the slopes, picking up my skis after frequent wipe outs, and gently offering encouragement and advice.
On a chairlift ride up to the peak, I confessed that I was feeling his patience with me was too much. Perhaps he should let me take it from here? He could go find a slope where he can do a full descent without interruption?
“No”, he said. “This feels good.” “I’m happy.” “I am happy when I am loving.” There was an awkward silence–not the desired type–then he continued, “I’m starting to believe that love is all that matters. Not God, not intelligence, not accomplishments.”
Six months later I would decide not to return to grad school. I moved back to Chicago. Clinton ended up staying in Seattle and getting two Masters degrees. For two decades we have managed to see each other at least once a year, whether it’s a cabin on a river, or a stay at his farm. We live 2,400 miles away from each other now and have gathered in the flesh three times in the past fifteen months.
Less than a year after I had returned to the Great Lakes in 2002, Clinton learned he had a faulty valve in his heart. He needed a valve replacement–open heart surgery–while still in his late twenties. I flew back for the surgery and for a short period of his recovery. The first porcine valve did not work, so a few years later he had to have his ribs pried open yet again for a mechanical valve to be inserted. It seemed wrong that a man with so much love to offer had a broken heart.
Confronting mortality seemed to expand his capacity. When I was going through a divorce, he was there. When I was short on money, he offered to pay me to paint his house. When I needed to rant about something, he lent me his ears.
I don’t mean to imply that Clinton is a perfect human being. He wrestles with meaning and purpose. Like many of us, he avoids conflict. Like me, it’s a default for him to give more than receive. He gets in his own way. His energy can be zapped, and hope punctured. The pandemic was extra tough on him, especially with three kids still at home while running a nonprofit and a small farm with his wife engaged as a medical professional and a priest.
Even when he is struggling, he is loving. And the older he gets, the more that love gets extended to him too. When I am in pain, I call him. When I have great news, I call him. He does the same. The laughter over the course of our relationship has followed a U-curve. At first, humor was welcome to distract us from what we didn’t want to face. Then there were years of seriousness–for both of us. Now, the laughter has been returning as we take ourselves less seriously and spend more time with plants and animals.
In Costa Rica it is common to see two men of all ages riding on the same seat of a motorcycle together. Cyclepooling makes sense for many reasons, but what struck me was how I was not accustomed to this sight. In North America, the motorcycle is more of a symbol, and less a means of effectively getting where one (or two) need to go. But more than that, there’s often a stigma of two men pressed up against each other with a motor underneath them.
I felt sad. Men loving men should not be appropriated only to sexuality. The first time I told Clinton I loved him, I have to admit, I felt wildly uncomfortable. As a hetero cisgendered man growing up in the ‘80’s, many, if not most of, the insults reserved for people like me were about being gay.
That was (and is) tragic and horrific.
Friendship between men is often expressed with slaps on the back and hands on the shoulder. I enjoy this, and I feel called to a greater diversity of public demonstrations of mutual care and affection. I love many men. I’m more comfortable telling them now because it’s true, and because the world needs love–out in the open, known, acknowledged, and spreading. Thank you, Clinton, for being a great teacher. I love you.
Rooted in Goodness
by Ken Homer
Beyond Ego: The Human Soul and Tikkun Olam – Part II
by Ken Homer
Tikkun olam means repair of the world soul. This is a living concept, for it requires endeavor—a daily one, and sometimes even an hourly one. It is a commitment to a way of right conduct, a form of living meditation, a kind of contemplative pragmatic. I understand it this way: Tikkun olam is giving one’s attention and resources to repair that part of the world that is right before you, precisely within your spiritual, psychological, and physical reach—according to soul’s sight, not ego’s alone.
~Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
I’m on intimate terms with the devastation plaguing our planet. It haunts me every day. Some nights, I lay awake or have troubled dreams due to my knowledge of how human-created systems are destroying Gaia—our beautiful, living planet—the only place we know of where life is found. I am keenly aware that 70% of large land mammals, 30% of insects, and up to 50% of bird species have disappeared in my short lifetime. How on Earth can I not feel the despair that comes with recognizing that as I have lived so much in our world has died, so much great beauty that will never be seen again. The answer is that I can’t. Despair is my constant companion. What separates me from many other people is that I don’t allow it to paralyze me. I’ve befriended it, I’ve learned to face it and come out the other side. That’s not easy or pleasant. Allow me to recount one of my more painful and transformative learnings about despair.
The day after turned 50, I found myself slowly slipping into darkness. I realized that I had not accomplished so many things that I had dreamt of doing as a young man, and that there were many things in my life that I didn’t want and didn’t feel good about. I felt I was a complete and utter failure. I would drive myself to quiet places and sit in my car and weep for the life I thought I’d live but which never came to be. I fell into a cavernous depression that lasted an entire year – 365 days with each day feeling bleaker and darker than the previous one. I lost my appetite for food, for fun, for life. I also lost 40 pounds, friends thought I had a wasting disease. I was wretched. Each night before I fell asleep, I would ask whatever Power there is in the Universe to allow me the privilege of not waking up the next day.
Then, on the morning after my 51st birthday, exactly 365 days after I crossed the event horizon of that soul-sucking depression, I awoke to that still small voice within that has spoken to me only a handful of times in my life. It said: “What if I am actually enough?”
“Wait what?! Come back, say more, please!” But that voice never repeats itself and it doesn’t engage in dialogue. It had sailed on, but a spark of luminescence was left in its wake.
“What if I am actually enough?” was the absolute best and wisest question that I could possibly be gifted with that morning. Slowly, over the next few weeks, the clouds lifted from my mind, my energy returned along with my appetite for living. I realized that if I lived my life from a place of not being enough, I may as well end myself. If I’m insufficient to life, then what’s the point of my existence?
Today, I find myself confronted with a world I’m ill-equipped to deal with. Things are falling apart, the center is not holding, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the ceremony of innocence is drowned, and I have to face it with an attitude of being enough lest I be crushed under the heel of the rough beast.
Of course, I am not enough, not for the whole world. I can’t take on the enormity of the messes in the world. I am under no illusions about that. Then again, neither am I powerless. I have some agency and a handful of good ideas that I know work. Too often I encounter those who have given up. Too often I meet people whose attitude is that they are not enough to cope with the challenges and struggles of this world. Too often I interact with those who look at trendlines and see a terrible fate unfolding. Too often I encounter those in my age cohort who proclaim “Well, I’m just glad I’m old and I’ll be dead by the time things get really bad.” Too often I engage with those who are so fixated on the dreadful stuff unfolding around us that they never attempt the task of tikkun olam because they feel too small, too inadequate to even try.
It’s because of such attitudes that I keep renewing my commitment to help people talk about the messes of the world in ways that can open a new way forward instead of succumbing to the feeling of not being enough and the twin energies of despair and paralysis that follow. It breaks my heart to meet people who feel the problems facing humanity have no solutions and a bleak future is inevitable. They resign themselves to living in dying world and exert no effort to work on behalf of a common good, on behalf of something larger than themselves. If it’s impossible, why try?
Us-humans have created some profoundly wicked messes and resolving them will require vast amounts of compassion, understanding the perspectives of those we disagree with, goodwill, collaboration, and ingenuity. Some say there is no hope, but I refuse to believe that. We’ll need to accept that the losses will be incalculable. The suffering enormous. But that’s no reason to stay small or play small. Every unborn child is counting on us to act, to save what we can while we can, and the sooner we abandon the idea that we are doomed the better our future will be. The regenerative powers of Gaia are beyond our imagining, and us-humans need to believe our efforts will pay off in the long run or we’ll simply resign ourselves to a fate that can be averted.
My efforts at tikkun olam, will no doubt prove woefully insufficient to the task. But that doesn’t matter. I make the effort because it is the only way I can honor the gift of being enough and, being enough is, methinks, the only way us-humans will manage to design and secure a worthwhile future. If we listen to those who tell us it’s hopeless and that we should be afraid, that there’s no point, then our souls will never rise to the challenge of living through this dark time and the great light of humanity will pass out of this world. And that is a fate my soul will never resign itself to.
Living from a place of being enough was a radically different and much needed wake up call for me. It was my soul’s call to tikkun olam. And I’d like to suggest that it is the critical stance that the human community needs to adopt if we want to save ourselves and our amazing world. If we are not enough, what is the point of existence? Will we resign ourselves to a degraded and dying world or will we find the wherewithal to make the difficult and painful choices required to remake and heal our world?
I have a few questions for those who, like me, feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the tasks before us-humans:
- How are you coping with the daily barrage of bad news?
- What gives you the strength to keep going when things look bleak?
- If you speak about your feelings, who do you speak with, what do you say?
- If you don’t speak about your feelings, how is that serving you, is it sustainable?
- How do you bear the emotional weight of living during the sixth great extinction?
- How do you engage with those who are in denial?
- What is your responsibility to other people and to the other than human and more than human world, and how are you upholding that responsibility?
- What becomes possible if you adopt the stance that you are actually enough?
- How do you stay connected to and fueled by being enough?
- What is the world within your reach that is calling for your soul’s attention and care?
- If those of us who are awake to what is happening don’t act, who will?
- If you are not actively taking action to secure a better future, what are you waiting for?
Thank you for reading! The next edition will be published on 7 February 2024. Email Pete with suggested submissions.
Grateful appreciation and many thanks to Charles Blass, Douglass Carmichael, Ken Homer, Todd Hoskins, Hank Kune, Klaus Mager, and George Pór for their kind contributions to this issue.