Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category


Story of Behavior Modification

The passengers in my car demonstrated a nervous twitch, especially as I approached stop lights. Out of the side of my eye, I could see them moving their foot toward the front of the floor board to step on an imaginary break and grabbing the arm rest. My wife in particular was beginning to complain more about my driving. “It was red!” she would say with some disapproving tone. Yes, I did frequently see the red of the red light as I raced through the intersection at the last moment. “If I stop too quickly,” I rationalized, “I would have been rear ended by the guy behind me.” I knew that was an exaggeration because my heart would ramp up a bit myself. Of course, it was a real pain to have to stop and wait and wait for the light to change. So after one close call and a frightened yell by a passenger, I knew I needed to do something about this potentially hazardous habit. But it was not that simple to just quit. It was a very strong habit cultivated over several years.

I had heard of behavior modification as a technique to change behaviors. Would that work here? How? After some thought I decided to make a game of it. I decided that if I was the first person in line at a stop light, it meant I had stopped instead of driving through. If I was second in line or further back, then I had no part in deciding to stop as it was necessary to avoid hitting the car in front of me. So, I made some rules. If I was first in line, I would award myself one point. If I saw red on a light as I drove through an intersection, I would loose all my points and have to start all over. I decided that was not harsh enough. Instead of losing all my points I would go to minus 10 meaning I would have to successfully stop ten times before I even got to zero. I did not count the number of times I got set back to minus 10 because it happened a lot the first couple of months. In the third month I got as high as plus 20 once only to get set back to minus 10.

I decided that making my game public to my friends and co-workers would help apply social pressure. People would ask me how I was doing, what my score was, and what the rules of the game were. Some even began to play the game too. It amused me that some wanted to know if they were following the rules correctly. I had to explain that is was not a real game, that they could make up any rules that would help them accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. After about six months, I finally reached a score of 150. I decided that I had probably been successful in modifying my behavior and could stop playing. It worked! Ever since then my wife and other passengers ride with me with more comfort or at least they don’t stomp on the break on their side of the car and I don’t see red as I pass through the intersection any more.

I am now an advocate of self made games. Something you want to change? Make a game out of it with rules that will help you change the behavior.


The Case Against GMO

Why are the corporations so against GMO labeling?

The answer to this question is subtle. It begins with why GMO crops are created in the first place. As it turns out to nobody’s surprise it is economic, not for the benefit of the consumer. If farm products can be produced that lower the cost of production by modifying the nature of the produce itself, in theory and practice it ought to be done. That is the basis of GMO.

For an example, consider Monsanto’s Round Up ready GMO crops. Using these mono-culture GMO seeds a farmer can apply the Round Up herbicide to reduce the weeds and as a result increase the yield per acre. The GMO crops have been engineered so that they are not killed by the herbicide while the weeds are. What is worth pointing out is that this GMO is designed to make money for Monsanto and the farmer. However, the GMO is not made in a way that the consumer gains any direct benefit.

This economic agenda does not seem to include making the product more healthy for the population as a whole. It does not make the nutritional value greater. In fact, one has to question whether the food produced through the application of toxic chemicals is in fact safe. There are historical experiences that should inform us, like the use of DDT.

So, if the only value is economic, mega-corporations naturally oppose any calling attention to the GMO process. Labeling would certainly do that. So, the corporations go all out to oppose labeling because, if we all knew where GMO was being employed for which there was no health benefit and no money savings benefit for the consumer, we might become more aware and less inclined to use GMO products. GMO benefits the corporations, but not the consumers.

Every technology ever developed had unintended consequences, some good, many bad.  For example, in the case of Roundup Ready Crops, we see a number of instances.  Increased resistance of weeds to Round Up which will require a more toxic application.  We also see GMO crops “infecting” non GMO crops indicating we are not in control of the outcomes of GMO.  It has resulted in suing farmers who through no fault of theirs, find GMO products in their fields with the effect of driving some non-GMO producers out of business and us out of choice in the market.  Labeling is an honest way to help us track what is going on and give us choices in our food purchasing.


Capitalism versus Biosphereism

The -ism of Capitalism is best described in the following definition of the meaning of the suffix -ism.

A : doctrine: theory: religion <Buddhism>

B: adherence to a system or a class of principles <stoicism>

Hence, Capitalism is best understood as a doctrine/theory/religion or adherence to the same with regard to financial “capital”. We could summarize this by understanding capitalism as a value system, one that places ultimate value on capital. By confusing this value system with the necessity of markets in which goods and services are exchanged, the value of a sustainable biosphere in which all living systems are nurtured is lost.

The remedy to the story that Capitalism has embraced and has been sold and bought by society writ large is a new story, a new name. We need a clear and compelling story about Biosphereism, a doctrine/theory/religion that expresses the values of a sustainable world for all living systems. We need a new class of principles and a new assumption that we will adhere to.


Jobs and Work

 

What do you do? Where do you work? What’s your job? How do you earn a living? These are some of the ways we ask each other about our livelihoods. We tend to overlook the significant difference between a “job” and “work”.

 

The difference between a job and work by a loose analogy is the difference between duty and passion. A job is something you have in order to do other things that you like to do. You don’t have to like what you do on a job, you just have to perform in order to be paid, preferably fairly with money which you can use to buy the stuff you want to have and live a life, outside of the job, that you prefer to live. Typically, when you have a job, you celebrate TGIF on Fridays and Groan when the alarm goes off on Monday.

 

In contrast, having work you love to do is stimulating, affirming, pleasurable, rewarding with or without a fair compensation. Typically, with work you love, Monday mornings are energizing and having to quit work on a Friday is hard to do. Work gives us self-value. Work has a sense of contribution to the world, to be a worthwhile way to spend your time. Others need not benefit from our work, but we are rewarded when our work is appreciated and adds value to the lives of others.

 

Too many people think they will be satisfied to have a job that pays them enough, no, more than enough to live life outside of the job. Some people realize that satisfaction with life comes from having the right kind of work to do as opposed to having stuff or lots of money. Sadly, some people only discover this after they retire and discover that work that they freely chose to do is more rewarding and life affirming than the job or jobs they had for the past 40 years.

 

If you are one of those lucky ones that has work to do that you love to do with an added benefit that it supplies your needs in life, rejoice. If not, reconsider how you spend your time chasing money in a life-sucking job in order to have the stuff and a life once the job hours are over.

Religious Mythology

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Philosophy, psychology, Religion, Science
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How I Interpret the Christian Message

When I understand it as Mythology

 I am sure that some would find it a fundamental mystery how someone could claim to be Christian, to participate and support a local Christian congregation and its work while believing that most of its tenets were founded on mythological stories. Some I am sure will be threatened by the ideas that follow and quit reading sensing that to do so will somehow participate in a heresy. So be it.

I understand the search for meaning, for an answer to the question “Why do humans exist?” has existed as long as written records have been recorded and probably long before, beginning when all knowledge was conveyed in oral form. Written history offers many attempts to answer the meaning of life and an explanation for those out of the ordinary natural happenings, good and bad. We call most of these explanations in our history myths. However, today’s answers we tend to accept as enlightened understandings of truth. In my view, today’s explanations are and will become to be seen in the future as simply a progression of mythological explanations to answer the question.

Yet, buried in progress of myth building are “truths” about the nature of what it means to be human, to long for understanding, to search for truth, and to understand what being human has become over the ages. What we have become and will continue to become is formed in part by the myths and cultures that embody them. I choose to look at all as myth laced with the wisdom of many searching minds. I see the Christian traditions as staggered attempts to understand humanness in relationship to some thing, place, or “person” which Alcohol Anonymous calls a higher power. To me, the higher power is simply the collective knowledge and wisdom of the human race which can be beneficial to humanity or detrimental to human existence.

So how do I participate in Christian worship and practices that I believe are mythological? I do so by interpreting the practices as having useful current day analogs in which I can find solace. Let me take a fundamental Christian belief in the death and resurrection of the one called Jesus or Jesus the Christ. The myth to me is that there was in fact a human resurrection. Furthermore, that this death was in some way a sacrifice of one human/god/person and that by virtue of this sacrifice somehow it will or did save me from an eternal consequence. It has an interesting analog. I am, the physical and thinking individual I am, a result from a dying and resurrection process. For me to be here today, a massive explosion occurred some 13 plus billion years ago as the best minds of the day believe to be true. In that time, numerous stars have formed and then died seeding the existence of other stars and star systems. Our solar system, its sun and planets are the result of this process of death and resurrection. I am therefore a part of this death and resurrection process that will continue for a few more billions of years. So, when we celebrate the mythological resurrection of a historical figure, I understand that indeed, it was necessary for my existence and worthy of my personal reverence and appreciation that whole star systems had to be sacrificed for me to exist. I understand that as a part of the creative process of the universe, the universe has created not just stars and planets, but a replicable form called life that has developed the capacity to understand and revere this universe and its creative, saving cycle of death and resurrection and to carry forward in time the memory as a collective action of many like myself.

And, in this personal process of re-interpreting the mythological stories of my inherited faith story, I take pleasure in participating in the myths and stories of the struggles of may people who came before me in search of the security of “knowing” the “truth.” I too find truth in myths that make life joyful and rich.


There are social norms that while not necessarily good for society are never-the-less socially acceptable.  By socially acceptable I mean, these social norms are considered by many as being actions or behaviors that are not radical or out side the bounds of reasonableness.  These social norms are not necessarily ones that have always been acceptable — times change, society changes, people’s attitudes change.  One of the questions is the direction of the change?  Are things getting better or are they getting worse?  It is not surprising that this OPINION is not universally agreed upon even when such policy or standards are widely accepted.

Slavery is a good example.  In most of the world today, the idea that one person can own another person is outside the bounds of social norms. That is not to ignore the active trade in human trafficking. There are people who believe it is ok to buy and sell people.  But, this is not an acceptable standard in the societies of the world today.  It is an idea that used to be a social norm in the United States as recently as 160 years ago by a segment of religiously grounded citizens of this nation.  I would suggest that these people suffered from a kind of mental illness, one that held that their ability to exercise power over others used to force others to work as commanded, to punish by whipping and beating, to use as sex objects, even to execute others was “normal” behavior.  That’s insane!  What was at one time considered within the social norms is today considered way, way outside the bounds of acceptability.

What would happen today if you wanted to own property that someone else had a documented, historical right of ownership and you did this by physically driving them off their property.  What if they resisted and you just killed them, their family including their children.  And what if there were children who survived and you conspired to have them imprisoned in the desert?  Obviously, you would be hauled into court.  I bet you would be found criminally insane.  How is that different than what our forefathers did to the native Americans of this nation?  These Westerners were not judged to be insane because what they did, at the time it was done, it was considered socially acceptable by everyone except the indigenous people who were treated in this way.

I am confident I could come up with other examples if I had more time and allowed my comments to extend to thousands of words.  Hopefully these two examples are sufficient to illustrate that behaviors we consider out of bounds today, bordering on insane behavior, were at one time acceptable behaviors to many.  I bring up these examples to put in contrast conflict over social norms today, ones that in the future might well be considered insane.  I will start with capital punishment.  Much of the world has recognized that the old view “an eye for an eye” is no longer acceptable.  Revenge is never justified no matter how angry we become; it only leads to more violence.  Just because we have a law does not make it sane to kill a person because they have committed the heinous act of killing another person.  It may feel good.  It may make some economic sense.  It may appeal to some sense of justice.  But it is insane to kill a person in the name of justice.

What about the sanctity of life.  Today’s standard of acceptable behaviors are not generally agreed upon, to say the least.  Can one form of life own another form of life by virtue of cunning intelligence?  Is it acceptable for a person to end their own life?  Generally, society agrees that it is not acceptable.  Yet, there are exceptions and in some places, it is permissible for a person to end their life as a result of severe pain or infirmity that reduces life to nothing more than biological survival.  What about the life of an animal?  Do we all agree that intentionally killing an animal for food is OK?  What if the animal is a dog or a horse?  Obviously, the concept of intentional killing of animals is conditional in today’s society.  Are there not some who would extend the termination of life for an entire forest to be out of bounds, a threat to the survival of many animal species, a threat perhaps to human life on the planet?  Indigenous people have understood a relationship to earth that those of us children of “the enlightenment” have lost.  And, we have through our technology, most of which requires some rape of mother earth to exist; we have provided resources to over populate, to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.  What happens when our systems collapse because we have exhausted the non-renewable resources.  Oh, the misery of it all.

Insanity contains an element of self-absorption, a preoccupation – occupation with one’s self, an ignoring of the way an action might have a negative impact one one or more others.  That is exactly the way people who ignore their impact on the environment act, ignoring the fact that their choices today may adversely affect their children or mine.  Life is about overcoming our collective insanity. It just may be the case that collectively, with exceptions, that we are insane in our actions about life itself for anyone but ourselves, now, during our short lifetime.


Social Justice, All About Advantages — Cecil Denney

What does it mean when one says they are an advocate for Social Justice? Surely they don’t mean social equality.

  • People are different.
  • Cultures are different.
  • Localities and their resources are different.
  • Opportunities for achievement are different.
  • Families are different. Etc.

The context in which social beings exist are therefore inherently different. In the historical and cultural systems of the United States, we like to quote such things as “All men are created equal” and in our flag pledge “… with liberty and justice for all.” Unfortunately, these foundational assertions fail to be incorporated into the fabric of our social systems and practices. The more disclaimed “greed is good” is more privately ingrained in us as individuals and our organizations. It seems that our personal well-being tends to trump other considerations. It is not that we are selfish, just that we are fundamentally human, looking out for number one. Total equality in all things does not appeal to anyone who enjoys the vitality of being alive.

Yet, we can not deny the impact of compassion. Confronted with the reality of pain and suffering, the mirror brain neurons experience the pain vicariously. If we see a child about to drown, most of us would jump in to save them at risk to our own safety. There is altruism to consider as well, a sincere interest in the well-being of others and willingness to share what material goods or advantage we possess so that others can be well too.

Contrary to some definitions, social justice is not really about equality or even liberty. Injustice is about advantage. It does not matter if the advantage is based on money, opportunity, intelligence, appearance, cordiality, race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, familial relationships, tribe, or in any other way that people can differentiate themselves from others. Injustice is about the misapplication of advantage or its misuse. Advantage can be written into laws, exist in cultural traditions or be prejudicial habits. Advantage is naturally sought by our competitive human nature, stemming from our historical competition for primary resources, for survival. Advantage is the basis for cultural class structures when consciously or unconsciously utilized for personal or tribal advantage.

So how does one seek social justice in the presence of a multitude of advantages unconsciously used. It begins with a recognition of ones own advantageous characteristics. As with most cultural wrongs in society, it is far easier to recognize injustice in others than in one’s self. (The beam in the other guys eye…) So, overcoming the detrimental side of advantage, whether individually or within a group of affiliated individuals, justice begins with self-awareness. Of course, that does not solve the problems of injustice, but it begins a process of recognition of injustice and being focused on one’s self or group, gives one person or groups of people the easiest place to begin to implement a more just society.

We can’t do away with advantages. We can decide how to ameliorate their impact. Equality is not the goal. Equal opportunity or more precisely balanced opportunity can create a more just social structure. In that structure, self-aware advantages are moderated by compassion, altruism and a desire for justice, a desire that one’s own advantages are not used to the dis-advantage of others. Justice dictates that advantage not be used to enhance ones own life while simultaneously operating to close off opportunities of those with fewer advantages. There is that obvious tendency to advocate that other people change as opposed to accept change in ourselves or our clan.

Sometimes social justice is couched in the cloak of “rights.” People have a right to… you name it. Some definitions equate human rights and social justice. Yet, Social justice is experienced in the context of giving just opportunity as opposed to getting ones rights of opportunity. We might say this or that is not right, but the beginning of social justice is in recognizing our participation in what is not right and sincerely seeking ways to respond accordingly. In the earliest written expressions of social justice in the Western world, the ten commandments, it is clear the emphasis is on our responsibilities, not our rights.

Social Justice is not the same as charity. Social Justice does not yield to quick fixes. It is larger than an individual, a committee, a church, a neighborhood. But, Social Justice can be practiced at each one of these levels to improve the social contract of living together fairly and with compassion for lack of advantage. Experiencing Social Justice comes first in stories, the story of real people and the struggles they experience in an unjust social context. It also comes in personally experienced relationships with the disadvantaged.

Being an advocate for Social Justice is complex and difficult. Yet, social justice is not something abstract, something out there, but something inside of us, reflecting the deep aspects of our spiritual self. We discover how to be a net asset to the world, not just another liability. All of us will have to think more deeply about our advantages and how we use them to dis-advantage others. How do we make unconscious choices, that are seemingly private choices within the social context where many are impacted, maybe not noticing the drowning disadvantaged right in front of us? How do we choose what to do as opposed to just talking about it? How do we organize ourselves to work collectively for a more just society? Where do we put our energy to be most effective?

Then, if we can address this complex topic of Social Justice, just maybe we can find others who also want to engage with us in this complex challenge.


I am not going to beat around the bush.  It is time to repeal the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why argue about what the original framers of the constitution meant?  Why debate like our founding constitution has never been changed? It is not Holy Writ.  God did not dictate it.  Humans did and we can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or we can simply clarify what most of us want, better control of the instruments of mayhem in our society.  We can fix what is broken.  We can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or create a new one that makes it clear there is no absolute right for anyone to own a weapon capable of mass murder.

I think if we consider the issue of gun control in terms of how to change the constitution instead of how to interpret it, we could have a much more rational debate.  Does giving everyone the right to own guns that have the capacity to kill many people at once what we want for our society?  (Today, that is answered by referring to the 2nd Amendment.  Why aren’t we talking about changing the Amendment?) Do we want a society with more guns, even good guys with good intentions (and you know what they say about the road to hell) owning guns because there are bad guys with assault weapons because there is no way to prevent that in a society full of guns?

You can’t stop insanity by doing the same thing over and over which has never worked.  Lets face it, the 2nd Amendment might have been reasonable for a paranoid nation at its birth.  It made sense in the late 1700’s.  But times have changed, guns have changed, the world has changed.  It is time to replace the 2nd Amendment.  We certainly have made other changes to our constitution to rectify injustices created by our founding fathers.  Lets change this one!

Are you up for that fight?

Cecil Denney


Democracy might be the means to extinction of the human race.

In order to deal with the environmental crisis we face, the governments of the world need to come to some sort of agreement about how to address the crisis. It does not work if only a few participate. It requires the cooperation of all the major sources of environmental contamination, in particular adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

I recall a discussion with a family member about the wisdom of groups as opposed to that of individuals. I recall reading how groups involved in decision making can reach superior outcomes. But, somehow, with regard to the environment, that does not seem to work, I think because the majority is uninformed and confused by counter forces who see no responsibility to the future residents of our planet. Who can we trust?

I include myself in this group in the sense that I frequently choose a short term comfort rather than personal discipline to sustaining a commons for all to enjoy. Since I have few resources, my impact is smaller than some, but it is this very rationale utilized by billions of earth’s inhabitants that collectively make it difficult to solve environmental problems. There are just too few people with too little power to protect the commons, the natural resources of the planet.

In personal relationships, it is sometimes easier to be accountable. Shame can be a powerful motivator. Almost all of us prefer to be held in good report with the people we know, especially those we love. But we feel little pressure from others who, because we are evolved to survive and protect ourselves, we feel must be cheating on their accountability.

So, I argue that democratic systems that involve large collections of people who have little chance of interpersonal relationships is prone to degenerate into short term decisions that are self serving, not in the interest of the whole. We may want justice, especially for ourselves, but those other cheaters don’t deserve mercy– at least that is the way democracy tends to go. The “other” is not to be trusted.

I have been involved in community organizing activities that are grounded in gaining power through seeking out the informed self-interest of groups of people and turning that self-interest (not selfish interest) into actions for change. That can work in small collective actions. But there is so much selfish interest by the larger group we don’t know, that we don’t have a relationship with, we just can’t trust others. There is plenty of evidence of mis-doings to confirm our beliefs.

So, I come to the conclusion that democratic decisions are not likely to solve environmental crisis because it is too hard to have an informed, agreeable, trust-able majority to set the direction while there are many with short term views that ignore any future consequence to their own short term goals and satisfaction. Sad to say the consequences may just lead to the end of the human species along with many others. Presently I don’t see a hopeful conclusion.   Fortunately, I don’t need hope to fight the good fight anyway.


What Does God Want?

In the Christian tradition in which I was raised, there is frequent reference to God’s will. What does God want for the human race? Throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptural cannon, we read of prophets who proclaimed God’s dissatisfaction with ‘His’ people who strayed from his covenant, his will for them. Today, we approach what the world should be by reference to God’s commandments and his revealed will. Unfortunately, we speak to a world what does not share our view of God, much less place value in “God’s Will” for us.

It is instructive to consider what Gods Will is in areas that this question is not usually asked. For example, what is God’s Will with regard to the population of the world? Is God happy at our world population approaching 9 billion? Is God sad that we have allowed uncontrolled growth of human kind? Or, is God pleased to see so many people made in his image? Is the more the merrier in this regard? If 9 billion is good, is 50 billion better? Maybe God is not pleased to see human kind expand to the point that many suffer from lack of basic needs?

What is God’s Will with regard to space exploration? Does God want the human race to be limited to the earth or would God prefer we travel to the far reaches of the universe, mastering other planets, mining the asteroids, plundering other living species so that God’s people can expand and master the whole of the reachable universe? Is this God’s solution to a growing population, an accepted need for continual growth? Or, since God accepts the death of individual humans, is God equally OK with the death of the human race, seeing it as just a natural outcome of birth, and life, something we see in all of God’s nature?

What is God’s will with regard to eggs? Is it acceptable to God that as humans we eat the eggs of other species, preventing them from being fertilized, preventing them from becoming new life? Is it God’s Will that all eggs created by nature be fertilized and give rise to a new birth, human or non-human alike? Does God prefer that all human families birth as many children as a woman has eggs or a man has sperm? Does God judge celibacy as fundamentally sinful, denying the opportunity for a human being with a soul from existing? Does God see this as equivalent to murder?

What is God’s Will with regard to medical technology? Was God more pleased when we allowed natural death to occur or is God more pleased to see us extend life as far as possible using enormous resources to extend life a few days, months or years, even when that life lacks quality and even if it results in great poverty for others and at great cost to society as a whole? What does God think about mammograms, CT machines, MRI machines, acupuncture, miracle medicines that make some people rich and others poor?

The point of these questions for me is this. To base our decisions on what we perceive to be God’s Will does not solve the fundamental problems we collectively share in the world today. In the past, when there was so much of nature that remained a mystery, it was useful to have a concept of God’s Will to guide us. Yet, fundamentally, what historically was called God’s Will was in fact a collection of understandings of what it meant to live in relationship with other people, what served the common good, how to live out a life with harmony, love, wholesome pleasure. And, I suggest this is precisely how we should be approaching the problems and issues of the day. It seems archaic to base the “should be’s” on the external reference to a God which is becoming more and more distant to more and more of the people alive today.

The best reasons for what is right and what is wrong is how it impacts the common good, maintains or builds equity and fairness, avoids unnecessary suffering, relies on what can best be demonstrated to be true. If there is a God, it is surely God’s desire for a sustainable future, one beyond our own limited existence, a sacrificial living for the good of all and of those not yet alive. And this is complex enough that we don’t need to draw on our inadequate understanding of the “God’s Will.”

Cecil Denney