I’m beginning to think nobody (at least not progressives) should use the word “socialism” any longer. We should replace it with the word “humanism.” This way it’s easier to point to the most important distinction between the two. Capitalism is concerned with capital, i.e. profit/money/wealth/things. Humanism is concerned with humans. Capitalism exalts things over everything else unless there’s a huge regulatory environment seeking to ensure capitalists don’t overreach. Humanism exalts humans over things, and seeks to ensure everyone has the basic things (shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, education) to become a fully realized, contributing member of society.
I know humanism is used differently, but socialism has been saddled with this connotation of authoritarianism, and too many people don’t see the difference between economic systems and systems of governance. Using the word humanism puts emphasis on who we want to benefit from our economic activity … the pipples.
My philosophy of life has been informed by two people, both of whom I was first introduced to (not personally, but via their writings) in my early twenties. They helped me understand the meaning of the dialectic of life; the yin yang of our corporeal (and intellectual) existence.
The former brought me an understanding of spirituality that did not require the existence of a supreme “being,” while the latter helped me to see how our thinking is shaped by the material world we live in, and how our thinking can then help us act to change that world for the better.
The former brought me “The Wisdom of Insecurity” and taught me to accept the tenuousness of existence and the need to slow down and enjoy life absent regret for the past or anxiety for the future (not that I am proficient at it always,) while the latter gave me a much clearer understanding of both biological evolution and the evolution of human society.
These two people are: Alan Watts, who many considered the western world’s foremost authority on Zen, a philosophy I believe reflects our place in the universe; and Karl Marx who, along with Friedrich Engels, developed and promulgated the philosophy of dialectical materialism, which I believe accurately reflects how the physical world informs our existence and how our ability to understand that physical world gives us the ability to significantly alter it.
It’s been over fifty years since I first encountered these two aspects of what I consider to be a somewhat “unified” theory of existence. Nothing in the interim has dissuaded me from following their teachings. I find the physical universe to be infinitely more beautiful and mystical than any of the Gods humans have worshiped over millennia.
I wasn’t sure if I could “re-blog” one of my own blogs using WordPress’s “Press This” widget, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve also updated this post somewhat. I added the flier depicted below, which I found in a box I’ve been holding onto for entirely too damned long, and made some minor text fixes.
One more thing. The situation I wrote about in the original post I’m re-blogging (six years ago yesterday, btw) has likely gotten worse. At best, nothing much has changed.
Seeing what appears to be the recent appearance of members of the Military tending the flag at virtually every golf tournament, I find myself wondering what it says about the direction of our cultu…
I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with Photoshop’s many editing tools, chief among them layers, cloning, blending, and various level adjustments.
I find politics, especially the clowns in the Trump administration, wonderful subjects for my efforts. For instance, recently the Attorney General, William Barr, responded to a question about whether or not he was worried about his legacy with the following:
“I am at the end of my career. Everyone dies and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”
Aside from his use of the filler “you know” four times in one sentence, I was stuck with the thought, “is he being stoic or nihilistic?” I’m still not sure, but the statement reminded me of a song by George Harrison. I found a pic of the album cover, researched then downloaded the proper font, and tweaked the cover like so:
I think he looks appropriately unconcerned, don’t you?
Thanks to a post I made on Facebook yesterday, I came across this wonderful excerpt from a story by Kurt Vonnegut, “God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian”. I’m thinking it might fit nicely somewhere in my book. Many thanks to my Facebook friend Sam Garrett for pointing me to it.
“This morning, thanks to a controlled near-death experience, I was lucky enough to meet, at the far end of the blue tunnel, a man named Salvatore Biagini. Last July 8th, Mr. Biagini, a retired construction worker, age seventy, suffered a fatal heart attack while rescuing his beloved schnauzer, Teddy, from an assault by an unrestrained pit bull named Chele, in Queens.
“The pit bull, with no previous record of violence against man or beast, jumped a four-foot fence in order to have at Teddy. Mr. Biagini, an unarmed man with a history of heart trouble, grabbed him, allowing the schnauzer to run away. So the pit bull bit Mr. Biagini in several places and then Mr. Biagini’s heart quit beating, never to beat again.
“I asked this heroic pet lover how it felt to have died for a schnauzer named Teddy. Salvador Biagini was philosophical. He said it sure as heck beat dying for absolutely nothing in the Viet Nam War.”
You can substitute Iraq for Vietnam and it works just as well, eh?
This graphic does a decent job of showing the different dimensions in which we find diversity
What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Merriam-Webster online’s first definition is “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.” Not bad. Not bad at all. How about the second definition? It’s presented as “the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization.”
I find this second definition somewhat troublesome and simplistic, in large part because I think a large percentage, if not an overwhelming majority, of people think of diversity in a very limited form. In my experience, within organizations — i.e. enterprise-size businesses — race, ethnicity, physical ability, and gender are about the only classifications in which “diversity” is interpreted to matter. This in spite of definitions that suggest far more inclusiveness, like this one from the University of Oregon’s website:
The concept of diversity encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences. These can be along the dimensions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs, or other ideologies. It is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive, and nurturing environment. It is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.1
Getting back to M-W’s first definition. Although it only mentions different forms, types, and ideas, it does manage to throw in an “etc.”, thereby inviting us to expand on the inclusiveness of its meaning. Here’s where I’d like to see a little more creative (and empathetic) thinking about diversity.
This graphic shows similar information regarding diversity, but only breaks it out into two dimensions
For instance, a few simple areas in which we find diversity that aren’t usually thought of as important are: handedness, learning style, personal style, interests and hobbies, hair length and type, gregariousness, public speaking ability, etc. Without belaboring the subject, I’m sure I could come up with dozens of other ways in which we find “diversity”. As the University of Oregon’s definition states, “. . . each individual is unique . . .”.
Isn’t it time we started treating people in terms of the larger context of their lives and experiences, rather than categorizing them — somewhat restrictively — in just a few, largely useless boxes? I’m not suggesting the categories we’ve been using are completely useless, merely that they’re terribly restrictive and overly broad. What’s your opinion? There should be quite a few out there. 😉
I don’t obsess about death or life after death but I have thought about it a lot over the years. Haven’t you? After all, one of the main consequences our religions offer us for a life well lived is eternal life in heaven once we die. Some offer the eternal antithesis as well and I know that motivates quite a few. An afterlife. Have you ever thought about what that would be like? I’ll bet you have. What really happens after we die? Everyone seems to think about it. With far fewer years ahead of me than are in my rear-view mirror, I have to admit I think of it even more, especially when I try to imagine the consequences of my death if it occurs before my children are adults and well on their way to a truly independent life. It matters because I’ll be 72 when my oldest is 18 . . . and I’ve already outlived my father by nearly six years. Not saying it’s going to happen, but it’s a reasonable alternative and it concerns me at times.
Now to the other side of the void. I’ve often wondered what the allure of life after death is for most people. I have a hard time believing anyone truly understands what eternity or, more accurately, death is . . . or means. Imagining what it’s like to be dead has got to be one of the most difficult intellectual pursuits known. Consider the following. When you wake up after even a very deep sleep, there’s some sense of time having passed, isn’t there? We may not remember precisely what our dreams are – or even that we dreamt at all – but there is some sense that time has passed and all is well. This is not the case if you’re unconscious. When you come out of anesthesia after surgery it’s entirely different. Almost everyone comes out of anesthesia, even after many hours under, with no sense of time having passed. It’s not uncommon for a person to ask when their surgery is going to begin, the sense of the passage of time having been entirely suspended. And they weren’t even dead!
Now try and imagine what it would be like to not wake up, ever. Can you do it? I would argue it can be approached, but I think it takes some time and, most likely, can never be done completely. It’s like imagining being pond scum, only vastly more difficult. The latest evidence and theory seem to point to the universe being around 14 billion (that’s 14,000,000,000) years old. Do you have a sense of loss for not being around most of that time? Yet, I maintain it’s difficult to imagine that same nothingness now that you’ve experienced consciousness. Somehow, we just can’t imagine the absence of everything.
Now, this isn’t a scholarly article. It’s based entirely on my experience, the things I’ve read and observed, and some obvious guessing. I have not been able to interview anyone who’s been dead for, say, 100 years to learn about their experience. Now that would be something! There is ample evidence the only experience they have is that of returning to dust, and only dust. I am, philosophically, a Materialist. I believe the physical world is a necessary prerequisite to the world of ideas, that is thought and consciousness cannot exist without a brain (and it’s attendant system, a body) to “think” it.
I know there are those who believe after (or as) we come into existence we are imbued with an eternal soul, so what happened before we were born (many would say conceived) is of no consequence afterward. I’m not one of them. I think once you’re dead you will not be looking down on your friends and relatives. Maybe there’s a short period of time, while everything is shutting down, you will imagine looking upon your now lifeless body, but I doubt it. I am quite convinced there is no afterlife and we won’t miss our family, friends, or anything else . . . because there won’t be any we to do so.
Much to my consternation, I just can’t imagine how that will feel. 😀
Graphic shamelessly stolen from BuzzFeed in case the link to their pic didn’t work
I have often said I spent over two decades – the entire length of my career at Rocketdyne – trying to get Engineering to talk to Information Technology; two different groups of geeks, each of which thought they were superior to the other.
I didn’t work on it full time, and it wasn’t my job to get them talking, but had I been successful it would have made my job a lot easier. I worked at being a voice of reconciliation between them. It’s in my nature. I was not successful; at least not overall.
Now, the difficulty in getting these two organizations (we called them “Processes”, as opposed to “Functions” or “Departments”) to talk to each other, was deeply ingrained in the culture of that enterprise. Part of the problem stemmed from the way we, as an enterprise, were organized. When I first arrived there in 1987, we were heavily command-and-control and pathologically hierarchical. There were kingdoms; fiefdoms, if you will and very few people thought further ahead than their own careers and organizations.
I’m happy to say things improved pretty dramatically over the years. One reason was the tireless efforts of a group of people, led by Dr. Bill Bellows, to apply the concepts and tools of thought leaders like W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, Edward de Bono, and many others to the way we did business. The term Dr. Bellows used for many years was Enterprise Thinking.
What made this way of thinking stand out, in my opinion, was its recognition of the systemic nature of an organization, an enterprise. It was clearly understood that all things – all processes or departments – were interconnected. Nothing in an enterprise exists by itself, outside the system(s) with which it interacts.
When you can clearly see this, suddenly you recognize how counter-productive it can be to blame people for things that go wrong, as well as expect individuals to make things work properly, which brings me back to the Engineering and IT departments I so futilely attempted to arbitrate for, as well as the title of this post.
Civility in Argument
Although I am guilty of it myself at times . . . I’m working on it . . . I don’t believe it is productive to blame others and, especially, to completely alienate them by using labels like “Idiot” or “Moron”. This is true whether you’re working together at an enterprise and – ostensibly – you share the same basic vision and goals, or you are on completely opposite sides of the political spectrum when it comes to how you think the country and the economy should be run.
I started writing this to make a point about the level of incivility I find at times on the Internet, especially in the comments of non-moderated news sites. Even the moderated ones contain some really argumentative and, at times, nasty comments. As I worked on what I was trying to say, the tragedy in Aurora played out and, true to form, the arguments between those who believe the second amendment is sacrosanct and those who wish to see access to guns more regulated are heating up.
My original intention was to point out how I have been able to get along with many very conservative people in my life, especially when we live and work together and see each other face-to-face on a fairly regular basis. I have long said that locally, in terms of how our cities and neighborhoods are run, we all want essentially the same things, e.g. safe neighborhoods, good schools, jobs, access to health care, etc.
I seldom have anyone disagree with this and it doesn’t surprise me. The problems seem to arise when we start talking about more abstract affairs; the economy, foreign relations, use of the military. Yet, I find with the people I know best we’re able to disagree without labeling each other as morons or idiots. We disagree but, somehow, we manage to continue getting things done together and not getting into actual fights over who’s right or how best to accomplish something.
I suppose this is one of our biggest problems in this country. Many of us have the tendency to ascribe the worst of motives to those they disagree with. I’m inclined to think that’s not a very good way to work together and achieve anything other than a continuous standoff. It seems that’s precisely how our government is now being run and it does not portend well for us as a nation. I’d like to see it stop.
A Taste of the Future
I have seldom written about politics or civic affairs here, but they weigh heavily on me. I have two young girls my wife and I adopted from China. I worry about the future they face here, where everything seems to be falling apart. I want to leave them a better world than I found as I was growing up and it sure as hell looks like that’s going to be a tall order.
I’ll leave this particular post with one thought and I will no doubt have more to say in the future . . . especially now that I’ve sort of broken the ice (not very well). Ironically, given I live in Simi Valley – still notorious for its role in the acquittal of the Los Angeles Police Officers who beat Rodney King, the thought that comes most readily to mind is, “Can’t we all just get along?” I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it is something to wonder about. It happens quite frequently in real-life, on the ground . . . as they say.
A while back I wrote about the dilemma I faced when I first realized my Facebook “friends” consisted of numerous constituencies, and my concern that speaking frankly to one may unwittingly offend or alienate some from another. I also mentioned that, despite this initial fear, I quickly resolved it in favor of just being myself and not worrying too much about it.
Lately I’ve noticed another phenomena that’s been slowly creeping into my activity on Facebook. While it’s related to my interest in economics and politics, it does seem to be driven considerably by the Occupy movement (I use only Occupy advisedly, as there exist not merely an Occupy Wall Street group – which started this whole thing – but also other groups, most evident on Facebook as Occupy Together, Occupy Marines, etc.)
As part of my decision to just “let it all hang loose” and be myself, I have increasingly shared articles, pictures, etc. from some of the political sites I either frequent or that like-minded friends have shared with me. As it happens, I generally characterize my political leaning as so far to the left I’m almost a Libertarian (mind you, emphatically not one). I have also responded to some posts from people with whom I don’t exactly agree, telling them politely of my problems with their positions. Most of these conversations have been quite pleasant; spirited debates over policy and principle. Several times someone has actually commented on how they were pleased with the civility of the thread and its participants.
Is Useful Political Discourse Possible?
So, what I’m beginning to wonder is if this is, indeed, a new phenomena that may turn out to be useful and healthy for political discourse. If you have a fair amount of friends there’s a substantial chance they will represent numerous viewpoints and positions on the important issues facing us. Might not we be able to understand each other better and, consequently, move away from the precipice of irreconcilable differences we seem to be teetering on lately?
I have to admit there is a bit of a dark side to this as well. Two things have happened to me that I find a bit chilling. The first was a friendly “suggestion” I received that I might want to tone it down a bit when discussing the Occupy movement and the politics and economics behind it. The impact this might have on my standing in the business community was the implication, and its seriousness did not go unnoticed by me. The second is related, but needs a bit of background.
Not Exactly a Meeting of Minds
Maybe We Can’t All “Just Get Along”
I live in a relatively insular city – Simi Valley, CA – home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The City leaders are, for the most part, far more conservative than I am (who isn’t?) and I have become Facebook friends with a lot of them, including the Mayor, members of the local Chamber of Commerce, and at least one City Council member. Being a strong proponent of the right of free speech, I have spoken my mind rather openly; at least on Facebook. I don’t get into too many political discussions when doing business and I am a big supporter of local small business and wish to actively contribute to making our local economy strong and vibrant.
Last night I realized the City Council member had “unfriended” me, presumably due to a conversation I had with a couple of his friends. As I recall, it was one that received a post of praise for its tenor and the level of intellect involved. I do recall, though, I was very adamant in pointing out what I saw as fallacious arguments based on incomplete or incorrect knowledge. Frankly, I’d like to hear of anyone having a really fruitful discussion about the merits of Dialectical Materialism with a rabid anti-Communist. In my experience, the philosophy behind Marxism is little known here in these enlightened United States, and it’s very hard to receive any respect from someone who is certain of the correctness of their knowledge and the evilness of yours.
A Profound Dilemma
So I’m also wondering . . . despite my essentially being out of the job market and, therefore, not having to worry about alienating a potential employer, do I now have to censor myself politically lest I “upset” a city leader and risk throwing a roadblock in my meager, but important, efforts at making Simi Valley a better place to live? I don’t ask that people agree with me; merely that they respect my position and – especially – my desire to do what’s right for the community as I see it . . . just as I respect their beliefs and integrity. I really don’t care for revisiting this whole dilemma around what’s appropriate when it involves the core issues of our lives and livelihoods.
As well, I’m very disappointed this person decided to unfriend me. I believe we have more in common than we differ on. I also wanted to keep up with what he was doing as a Councilperson, as he uses Facebook to post from various events he is involved with. It seems I’ve been cut off from a useful, viable channel to the goings on of one of my city’s leaders and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. How do you feel about this?
There’s a reason I named this blog Systems Savvy though, to be truthful, I haven’t really done what I intended when I decided on the title. Blogging for me has been somewhat aimless as I’ve attempted to find my voice and considered what I wanted to accomplish. For the last year and a half, starting with my decision to accept the early retirement package offered by my former employer, I’ve considered how to use it to both promote my new business and educate the people I wanted to reach.
The result has been a number of fairly well-directed posts on various issues involving small business and social media marketing. However, I am only beginning to become accomplished at marketing, in general, and frequently feel I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said – and said better – by others.
Lately, especially during a period of time I have been working with an associate on a fairly ambitious proposal (which, last week, was declined), I haven’t had much to say at all. I have, however, been giving a lot of thought to the direction I would like this blog to go in, and I think I’ve come to a decision on what I want to do. Let me explain.
My original intent was to look at various world views, philosophies if you will, that attempt to provide a systemic approach to understanding nature, society, economy, etc. The thinkers I have come to respect and, I think, understand include people like W. Edwards Deming, Russell Ackoff, and Peter Drucker (among others) from the business world, and Karl Marx (an eyebrow raiser, I know, but more about that in later posts) and Friedrich Engels, especially with respect to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism. This effort began on January 7, 2008 where, in my first post, I explained what I hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, the distractions and obligations I referenced back then kept me from accomplishing what I then thought would be useful . . . and possible.
Now, after being somewhat forced to accept what for me was a way too early retirement package, and having embarked on my journey back into the world of small business, I’m finding I need to rethink the direction this blog should take. I want to bring it somewhat back to my original intent – with one small wrinkle. I need to write more about the lessons I’ve learned; not merely with respect to the things I experienced and accomplished in my over two decades at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, but also with respect to those things I learned in the preceding two decades in small business, as well as the many experiences I’ve had outside of the business world. One more thing. I’m not dead yet and I am far from inactive in my community.
To do this, it seems I will have to buck one of the “rules” of blogging, i.e. “it’s not about me“. This concept has made it exceedingly difficult to share some of the things I wish to write about for two main reasons. One I wrote about earlier, and that’s this feeling I’ve had all my life that everyone knows what I know. After all, it’s obvious! Right? The second is I’ve been repeatedly asked to write about many of my life experiences, which are not quite “mainstream” and from which I have gleaned some lessons that have been important . . . at least for me, but I’ve been constrained by that admonition against making it about oneself, as well as my inborn desire to please, not offend, others.
I’m constantly working on the first of these issues and here’s what I’ve come to think about the second. I am NOT in the middle of my career. After all, I’m now collecting Social Security and a pension from my previous employer. Less than a year from now I will be eligible for Medicare and, increasingly, I will need it to deal with the medical problems that come from aging. Most bloggers I know (not all) are between 20 and 30 years younger than I am. They have decades to go in their worklife. I may have a decade or two left, but the prospect is far less certain and, truth to tell, I really want to slow down a bit.
I think a change is in order. I think I need to write about all the things I care about. I have also previously written about the dilemma I faced when I realized the disparate “friends” I had on Facebook and how it momentarily took me aback and caused me to reconsider what I was willing to share – with everybody! As then, I have come to the conclusion I can, and should, write about the things that interest me, no matter how they might seem disconnected . . . because they aren’t! They’re taken from my life, my experiences, and the conclusions I’ve drawn or the questions I still have regarding them. If some are offended by this, oops! Too bad.
Me and You as Systems
I am interested in systems theory; systems thinking. Part of my understanding about it is we are all part of various systems. As living organisms we are ourselves systems. For over 60 years I’ve felt, as most of us do, forced at times to separate my life into its constituent parts: Personal; professional; political; religious; philosophical; etc. Yet they are all – for me – intimately related and inextricably intertwined. They are what has made up my life.
Perhaps I’m getting a bit melancholy as I realize my time is surely winding down. I hope to have at least a couple more decades left in me, but there are physical changes making it clear that it won’t be the same. I am showing signs of essential tremors, which my mother had and which sometimes make it hard for me to eat with a fork or grab a small bottle out of the medicine cabinet. Just this past Monday I had a suspicious mole removed from the scar on my back that is the result of surgery to remove a melanoma a couple of years ago. My hair is mostly gray. I have chicken skin, moderate hypertension, and type II diabetes! There are other signs. Perhaps I’ll write about them too.
So here’s the deal. Although I will continue to build my business, which includes a large dose of pro bono and civic-minded activities as well as remunerative ones, I intend to increasingly share my thoughts about the rest of my life as well. I know I have written some posts that were personal, political, and even relating to religion (thought certainly not promoting it), but I have lately been going in the direction of making this a business blog. I will no longer do that. I’m not sure this is the right thing to do. Were I younger, perhaps it would definitely not be the right thing to do. However, I’m not really worried about looking for a job or offending my parents. They both shed their mortal coils years ago.
Frankly, I don’t know if anything I have to say is all that important, but I have the opportunity to write about it and, if nothing else, it will be available for my children, who are now only 7 and 10 years old. I want to leave something so they will be able to better understand who I was and, especially, just how much I love them and want the very best for them. That’s important to me!
Since my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2010, I have spent quite a bit of energy on developing work as a social media marketer for small business, a business manager for an AI software development firm, and as an editor/proofreader for a number of business books and a couple of novels, as well as a two-year return engagement at Rocketdyne from 2015 to 2017.
I have decided to stop actively pursuing business in these fields and am now positioning myself to be a writer. I have done quite a bit of writing over the years, but I’ve never really attempted to make any money at it; at least not specifically. I’m starting out with a couple of memoirs and, currently, I’m studying the craft, creating a detailed outline and timeline, and honing my skills as a storyteller. Pretty sure I’ll be writing some fiction as well.
The views expressed herein are those of the author. Any opinions regarding the value or worth of particular business processes, tools, or procedures, whether at his former place of employment, at a current client's enterprise, or in general, are his responsibility alone.