Leaked Cables and Sustainability

Hypocrisy, denial, trust, truth, and candor (sincerity) are words that come to mind while reading the latest news about the zillion leaked US State Department cables. Relationships among sovereign states, like those between friends and relations, require trust most of all. Candor helps to establish trust, but may be distorted on occasions where the truth would inflict unnecessary pain. Hypocrisy ultimately leads to loss of trust when actions belie the words spoken and claims made about them. In the absence of the last three in the list, relationships lose or never find a consensual basis for action, and can only be maintained through the exercise of power. In an atomistic… Read More

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Turkey Day

I am away for the long Thanksgiving weekend visiting my daughter and family in Northern Virginia. This Holiday has long since lost its meaning of gratitude for the plenitude of the Earth. The major event, the family dinner, is an occasion to prepare and eat enough to last through the whole four-day weekend. But even that has been replaced as the peak experience by Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year when people gather in throngs well before the stores open. Some as early as midnight. Last year, if I remember correctly, the crush of the crowd to get into one store was so great that several people… Read More

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I’m as Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore!

This now famous line from “Network” was uttered by Howard Beale, the embittered newscaster. It also seems to have been in the background of people’s explanations for the choices made in this past election. Or perhaps, it was only a variation like, I’m as mad as hell at you, and I’m not going to take you anymore! It’s much, much easier to take out one’s frustration in these troubled times on somebody than to spend the time to locate where the “this” in Beale’s cry really lies. It’s never quite clear in the movie whether Beale’s use of “mad” refers to anger at something or to his mental state. He… Read More

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More is Not Necessarily Better

My colleagues in the sustainable consumption network sent me the abstract below of a recent academic article about choice. It provides further evidence of what academic psychologist Barry Schwartz has been saying for quite some time. I’ve added a TED video of his to the end of this post. Schwartz’s argument is simple, but elegant. The idea of freedom as proportional to the number of available choices stops working when that number gets large. At some point more choice become pathologic, and the actor, rather than being able to enjoy more freedom, comes under what Schwartz calls the tyranny of choice. Try to feel free when you are faced with… Read More

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Flourishing and Thermodynamics

I’m still chewing on the question asked by one of the readers of this blog. Is the emergence of flourishing, beauty, happiness… different from the emergence of observable physical phenomena like eddies or tornadoes? Thermodynamics helps explain how emergent structure appears in systems far from an equilibrium with little order present. These structures are patterns we can discern against a context of randomness, chaos, and disorder. In the late 1980s, the idea of “[self-organized criticality](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organized_criticality)” was developed and used to explain the suddenness by which these structures showed up. The term, punctuated, is often used to describe the jump from one distinct regime to another–the stock market all of a… Read More

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It’s the Economy Relationships, Stupid!

Sorry for the unexplained absence. I seem to have acquired a case of blogger’s block, but only a mild one. I promised to continue for a while to write about complexity and its relationships to sustainability. One of the most interesting and intriguing features of complex system is emergence. The idea is quite simple, but the process is mysterious. Emergence is the appearance of some quality that arises from the structure of a system, that is, from the relationships among all the parts. The ripples on a sand dune or the regular shape of a snow flake are one kind of emergent happening. The eddy that forms when water drains… Read More

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The Danger of Counting on the “Truth”

I have written much about complexity in this blog, but find it remains perplexing and arcane to many. It is perplexing to me as well, but that’s no excuse from working to understand this concept and its critical importance to our future. The most direct way to state that importance is to say we live in a complex world, but don’t have the mental and conceptual tools to deal with it. Our culture is firmly grounded in understanding the world through a mesh of fixed rules and relationships revealed by cutting up the world in separate, distinct little pieces. The rules may be complicated, say the theories of quantum mechanics,… Read More

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A Political Detour

It’s a little after 8pm and I’m already pretty sad. I guess I have taken a sea change in the Congress as a given. I might come back later and write a coda. I usually watch the ABC national news with Diane Sawyer who made a couple of comments today and yesterday I take issue with. Yesterday, she announced that ABC would be focusing on China shortly using words close to “to understand what it takes to stay ahead of them,” Today she made a gratuitous remark about watching democracy in action today. I would rather call today an example of plutocracy in action. Certainly there were serious differences at… Read More

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