POEM: Unemployed Stat

Unemployment hit a 5-year low
Still, Bob remains 100% unemployed

This short poem highlights the difference between statistics and people.  Statistics can estimate probabilities with some accuracy of how a large group of people may act, or be affected by something.  Statistics cannot reliably predict stuff on an individual level.  The farther we get away from individuals, the greater “power” statistics wields.  Of course, we could compile all the statistics in the world and estimate what the average or typical human would be like, yet never actually know anything meaningful about any individual human.  That typical human being would be a 27-year-old, Mandarin-speaking, Christian, female agricultural worker.  Those researchers might well learn more about humanity by going to lunch with their other researchers.  To take a simpler example, suppose researchers measured the foot size of every person in the United States and calculated the average value.  If leaders used this information to provide everyone with a pair of average-sized shoes, there would be a lot of shoes thrown at such foolish leaders.  Except for the exceptional genius of baggy pants, one-size-fits-all often doesn’t work well. In many cases, the truth is closer to one-size-fits-none.  The point is that the farther we get away from knowing individual human beings the less we know about humanity.

Statistics is impersonal.  Statistics knows nothing of intimacy.  Statistics treats human beings as deterministic objects.  Only by studying huge numbers of people can statistics succeed at sufficiently washing out individual differences.  Granted, most human systems are very complex and many of these differences are, in fact, “material” or deterministic differences.  Nonetheless, the grandest fallacy or illusion brought by the power of statistics is that human free will is insignificant and can be ignored or rounded down to zero.  The greatest fact that can only be ignored only at the peril of losing our humanity is that human freedom is the very reality that most defines humans.

Bob is not a statistic.  Bob is not simply something to be tallied up, or experimented on for other people’s edification.  For those who actually care about Bob, statistics provide little human warmth and limited meaning.  Without human caring, which is ultimately rooted in intimate human relationships, statistics serve to dehumanize us.  The issue is not whether to abandon statistics as a human tool to help understand the physical world around us.  The issue is whether our humanity will wield tools for our betterment, or such tools will wither our humanity.

People who seek great power need to scale up their individual power through tools.  If the scale of power sought exceeds one’s ability to exercise their humanity, by growing their own humanity and the humanity of others, then tools become weapons against humanity.  The exercise, and even threat, of such power exceeding a human scale can tempt others to react in an equally inhumane way.  This “self” defense is often justified as an equal and opposite reaction.  However, unless inhumane treatment is met with humane treatment, then the interaction is nothing more than physics — every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.  If humanity doesn’t respond to inhumanity out its own higher nature, humanity, then it is reduced to inhumanity.  Part of human existence is physics.  However, if we don’t recognize and live into our higher nature, in the realm of metaphysics, then humans will closely resemble billiard balls, albeit very complex billiard balls.  The ability to react in a humane way to any situation is, in fact, what human response-ability is!  Newton’s third law of motion, that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, is not adequate to explain human behavior.  Though, ironically, the less free we become, the closer this seems true.  I don’t know about you, but for me, as a free range human being, that’s not the way I roll!

Sadly, the temptations of great power, whether to secure great power for oneself or to react in “self” defense against such dehumanizing power, seem to be an everyday reality for most humans.  Modern-day success often seems to rest on either wielding dehumanizing power over others, or, at best, reaching a form of detente, where we react in equal and opposite ways, hoping not to reduce humanity any further, but not willing to risk our humanity to up the game.  Unfortunately, any slightest miscalculation will degrade humanity.  And the calculating humans required for even the best detente have already sacrificed their humanity to play a game of billiards.  In fact, without higher aspirations, people become tools — or at least begin to appear as tools.  Yet, people are not tools.  Hope springs eternal.

Reintroducing human scales, necessarily smaller and decentralized, resting on a rich and robust foundation of human intimacy, is the greatest challenge humans face in responding to globalization and cancerous capitalistic and consumer culture.  We need to get over the notion that modern civilization’s institutions are too big to fail.  We need to get over the notion that wee, the people, are too small to make a difference.  The truth is the opposite.  Western civilization is deeply dependent on dehumanization and continues to race unabated past natural limits, most notably by destroying the very environment we depend upon.  Humans depending on dehumanization and doggedly insisting that we “shit where we eat,” is unsustainable.  Either humans transcend such dehumanizing dependencies or we will descend into fascism.  Either humans learn to live in harmony with nature or nature will “select” us, or at least our cancerous globalized civilization, out of existence in some Darwinian extinction.  Nature may be kind enough to simply scale us down a bit, doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves, in a Newtonian third law of motion tour de force.  We can do better.  Not through hubris and ever more precise power grabs.  I suspect the seed of a successful human future will be rooted in personally nurturing Bob and singing songs of humanity rather than bowing to the steady hum of a wickedly efficient bureau of labor statistics.

POEM: Certifiable


Respectability is the currency of the establishment
A religion of red carpets and relics
Propriety is its only denomination
Holding sway with all that moves
Trafficking in status
A multitude of sins covered in fine veneers
Indulgences purchased by another’s blood
Endless memorials to the dead
Crass facades for the living
Taken by mausoleums
As easy cache for what remains
Bequeathing scant prospects
Save those certifiable

Conventional wisdom is, well, conventional.  Wisdom, however, exceeds the merely conventional.  A fuller wisdom operates at a transcendent level, more than triangulating conventional wisdom in ever finer ways, with ever more data collection and ever better statistical models.  Wisdom sees beyond conventional wisdom, beyond mere facts, beyond mere statistics.  Wisdom sees beyond.  Respectability and status are the conventional ways to “succeed” in a given culture, intently focusing on existing landmarks or maps, and taking advantage of existing power structures.  A higher wisdom envisions new and better conditions and ways of being, and works in a way that transforms power structures to be fairer and more accessible by all, not merely privileged classes.  Most simply put, and perhaps most radically, true wisdom seeks a new and better world for all, for more.  Conventional wisdom settles for adroitly manipulating current realities to harness the status quo to one’s in-group’s advantage.  Generally, this is called winning or succeeding.  True wisdom necessarily crosses the boundaries of current conventional thinking and the status quo.  This is dangerous as it pioneers new territory, crossing the powers that be.  Nevertheless, such wise living is powered by the faith of fuller living and the hope of things to come.

This poem strikes at the lack of heart of conventional wisdom.  Still, this poem is not intended to negate conventionality, but rather to breathe life into, to give it heart.  True wisdom functions at a higher level, recognizing a higher order.  This brings order, or perhaps more aptly put, harmony.  The higher orders the lower.  Otherwise, we will live backwards lives, necessarily disordered.  Without hearts overflowing into the faith and hope of a better reality, life stagnates.  By only mastering what is, we confine ourselves, and others, by voting for hopelessness, not putting faith in the possibility of betterment for all.  There is probably nothing more dangerous to life’s vitality than hopelessness.  Such cynicism is a form of death.  Cynics, who often prefer to be called realists, may memorialize the dead but settle for building crass facades for the living on foundations purchased with the blood of others.

Like the eminent physicist and less well-known mystic, Niels Bohr said, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”  There is at least one thing certain: there is no mathematical model that can predict the future merely from the present.  If you try to predict the future based solely on the mountain of past facts and thin present, then you will be certainly wrong!  It’s time to start living in the future, not the past!  It’s time to start living into the fullness of life that is our present!  Our present state can be taken as unbearably thin somehow requiring us to accept only this emaciated reality; or, our present state can be taken as a launchpad of our robust hopes and generous dreams.  Life invites us to more, ever more.  The cynic may be right on occasion, as all of our hopes and dreams do not come to pass.  Nevertheless, wise and hopeful people cannot deny their hopes and dreams regardless of the probability of being right that the world is wrong, in knead of betterment.  Cynics are destined to be right in certain ways and wrong in ways they cannot predict.  Either way, they are predictably less happy.  The wise are destined to be right in some ways, the ways that right the world.  Any way, they predictably have greater happiness.

The wise bring hope, a dangerous hope, that invites us into a better future.  The possibilities are endless and somewhat less certain.  Hope is a game that must be played in order to be won.  More often than not, the odds are favored, and when not, rock on, leading in the light of possibilities more than cowering before dark probabilities.  The cynics vainly attempt to follow an even path that cannot be the future.  Cynics invite the danger of no hope.  And all of the difference lies in certifiability…

POEM: Straight Shooter

Straight Shooter

If I were to do anything
And you looked back at me
If you were to say
I can see that
Then you might just know me
However, if this frightens you
Then you might not just know
The difference between
Possibility and probability
And determined to be free
You may suffer
From certain fears
Whose dread remedy lies
In looking forward
With fears uncertain
As is your hope
And make your choice
Not necessarily
As did I

This poem was inspired by the latest mass shooting in a litany of mass shootings.  The angle that struck me is the pressing desire to ascertain the reason.  It seems that we may be as afraid of there being a distinct reason as if there is no distinct reason.  This seems to be the two sides of the coin of control: that there is control and we are a prisoner of it, and that life is absurd and unpredictable, spurring anxious hypervigilance.  Personally, being both an unrepentant idealist and quite aware of my dark side, I can see that I contain the seed of all human behavior, good and bad.  I am a straight shooter.  Of course, those who know me would also know that I can articulate reasons for most everything I do do.  Whatever I do, you could probably say, “Yeah, I can see that.”  This simply reflects that seed of possibility contained within us, whether we are aware of it or not.  The probability that something happens is a somewhat different matter — perhaps more about matter than meta-matter (physics and metaphysics).  Regardless, the quest for control and/or complete understanding of the outside world can never alleviate the need to respond to whatever is with an irreducible amount of uncertainty — whether regarding our fears or our hopes.  While the collective behavior of others models a certain way of behaving, I must choose my response without a guarantee of a particular outcome.  And while it may seem eminently reasonable to do what is most likely, we are free to pursue a different course; we are not completely bound by probability.  Probability is the purview of “science.”  Possibility is the purview of the heart, an infinitely more mysterious and fickle state.  Science is good at predicting the accuracy of the behavior of crowds (large groups of people, where the veil of statistics masks our individual freedom).  Possibility is, well…quite possible.  Without uncertainty, possibility would not be possible.  So, embracing uncertainty is a good thing…perhaps even necessary!