Why be generous towards rule breakers

where governments have been clear what those rules are and why, around the COVID 19 pandemic?

The short answer to this question is that open, free society requires it.

The long answer is a whole lot trickier for most people to get, especially those of us who tend to be obedient.

The problem lies in our primal nature in regards to authority.

Most people are obedient to authority and always have been across a million years.

Simultaneously, people have always exploit loopholes and bent the rules. And creative and imaginative people are better at it than others.

To understand these characteristics we must understand the evolutionary success of human clans and the advancement of human civilisation over the past 10,000 years.
The evolutionary success of human clans are based on primate hierarchical and social support behaviour. This behaviour hinges on an alpha male, a female harem, and progeny. The human alpha male is to a large extent what we now call psychopathic. Their (our) success, as against other primates that haven’t socially changed for millions of years, developed around the opening up of clan society to sycophant males who were allowed female relationships as reward for that submissive support. Their female harem also had a hierarchy. Kinship and successorship to the alpha (chief, king) developed according to the male children of the female hierarchy, although subordinated by the most psychopathic natures in the system.

The political tensions within clans were terrible, with death waiting around every corner, harnessing two types of proclivity: intelligent rebellion for domination; and shame provoked submissiveness. Intelligent rebellion for domination not only lead to successorship of the chief or king but also to the development of hierarchies of sycophancy. In other words, a way to dominate is not to hold the throne but to hold the highest positions in the hierarchy serving the throne. Shame-provoked submissiveness created a safety ‘red-flag’ in all social circumstances from the earliest ages. Children with shame would survive by immediate submissive responses in the face of any authority: parental, older sibling. This is very important in a social environment in which death by an irritated chief was immanent and uncurbed, even for a child.

If we see that the degree of intelligent rebellion and shame wove (and weaves) a composite individual nature, then we can see how political hierarchies eventually developed, as powerful sycophants worked to increase the territories and subjection for their chief. We can also see, as a parallel process, the development of religious hierarchies both as alternative ways to dominate the society and the chief himself. I caution, here, to let go of any impression this is giving that these are simple transactional behaviours. From the earliest human times, dealing with the issues of death and our awareness of our relationship with others and other species, and our killing them for food and resources, has been an existential challenge that required a intelligently deft vision, a meta-story to comfort our burgeoning moral consciousness in the face of requirement for survival. Spiritual and religious visionaries command a space that submits to the right of kingship, while offering comfort to all subjects of their ‘rightness’ in subordinate life and death.

Spiritual and religious visionaries also set up their own hierarchies. Within those hierarchies, additional allowance was made for the freedom for a certain type of intelligence to become immersed in the metaphysical landscape through practices of the mind, language and reflection. As societies advanced, artisans (product makers) became artists. Some artists and religious visionaries shared the proclivities to divine the metaphysical and theological.

A particular form of intelligent rebellion was able to be fostered in larger societies. This took place in the form of a youthfulness that no longer needed deep shame to survive, and an artfulness, a creativity, to formulate new social constructs and ways to promote them. The promotion of new social constructs that mostly challenged the authority of the king, while developing a following in times of general social tribulation, tended to be visited by programs by the political and religious leadership. It is worthwhile pondering the ebb and flow of these tides, as, finally, every civilisation that enters a certain internal tribulation, falters, collapses, and then finds that once youthful vision rise in the populace with a more loos, open (not entirely new) social construct.

Fast-forward to the modern society. Dr Barth Hoogstraten who was a medical student in the Dutch resistance in WWII wrote in the foreword to his 2008 book, “Resistance Fighters: The Immense Struggle of Holland”, that throughout history, students and artists have been in the forefront of struggles against tyranny. In Nazi-occupied Holland, 1,671 Dutch men and women paid the ultimate price for their heroism. Hardship, terrifying suspense, and sacrifice that characterized their life were interspersed with the moments of humor, simple beauty, and love that persevered even in the darkest of days.

In their research on the behaviour of french resistance fighters of WWII, Andre and Alex L. Juliard noted that they found a new insight into the nature of human motivation and into our own psychological makeup may sometimes result from the observation of individuals living in unusual conditions such as people who joined the French “resistance” during World War Il. They had been participants with other young and middle-aged persons who belonged to a “maquis”’ in Southeast France. Their observations induced them to discern in human beings a larger variety of innate aptitudes, or inclinations, than those currently recognized in normal daily existence. Some of these overlooked inclinations, nevertheless, play an important part in the behavior of dedicated people.

And what of the masses of people who committed the atrocious acts of WWII, Stalin’s rule over the USSR, Pol Pot’s revolution in Cambodia, etc? “We may be genuinely puzzled as to how people could obey commands that seem both bloodthirsty and stupid. Puzzlement can vanish when we realize that in the eyes of their perpetrators the hideous crimes of history are not hideous crimes at all, but acts of loyalty, patriotism and duty. From the vantage point of the present we can see them as hideous crimes, but ordinarily from that same vantage point we cannot see the crimes of our own governments as hideous or even as crimes.” (Don Mixon, Obedience and Civilization)

Rebellious domination and religious vision has slowly and surely brought us to a place in the development of human society, when we no longer need a chief or a king. Yet we stand at a cross-road, and ebb in the tide of a kingless society. To a large extent, in times of difficulty, our behavioural responses are not so different from 10,000 or 100,000 years ago. Mostly we are looking for who to be submissive toward, who to be supportive of, who will give us security in return, even if with a sense of dread around each corner. And in turbulent times, alpha males will tend to come to the fore to provide that direction through their political hierarchies. Yet there are those, mostly young, mostly creative, mostly intelligent, who will take all kinds of risks in rebellion against the domination of authority and their sycophants. Theirs is not to have a far-reaching knowledge of all things worldly. That is for other, older heads. Theirs is to be the ‘resistance’ to the tendency for most of us to find a haven under an authoritarian rule.

Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience. Not only was his spiritual development possible only because there were men who dared to say no to the powers that be in the name of their conscience or their faith, but also his intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient, disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.” (Erich Fromm, On Disobedience and Other Essays)

A society is neither for the young or the old, the rich or the poor, the dominant or the non-dominant. It is for all of us, and, therefore, all of these. At this point in time, the advancement of civilisation requires that there are a number of primary agreements in place that support the strengthening of the collaborative and cooperative sovereignty. Under this form of sovereignty, the mass of us who are given to obedience, will avail ourselves of the servitude to the collaborative and the cooperative project. The psychopaths will become the true rebels, tending to strive to be dominant over everyone else in their sphere of influence, yet being held in check by their own drive towards self-interest that is held in the collaborative space. The youth, artists, activists, visionaries, disenfranchised, and children will enjoy the rewards of being in collaboration. The agreements include: we all hold equitable ownership of the land of our citizenship; we all hold equity in participation and servitude to the community; policing is in community servitude – violence physical force or coercion is forbidden except where an immanent threat to another is evident, and then only to mitigate that threat. While policing is sycophant to an authoritarian domination, while police officers are trained to hurt the common politic and those who rebel against that domination, so the rebellion will continue and broaden. It is not to say, the turbulent times are not the time for rebellion. The turbulent times are exactly the point when gains in equity and participation in the democratic advancement are being handed over by the submissive to the authoritarians. Turbulent times are exactly the the times of sacrifice for the next phase of freedom, peace, and the advancement of human society.

We, who would have this society, must stand for the agreement forbidding police force on peaceful citizens, regardless of the rules they have broken. We will then prevent police for using force on citizens of whom there may be a suspicion of but, in reality, haven’t broken rules. Police forces will be primarily negotiators of community upset, on rare occasions to prevent immanent violence against another, effecting physical intervention. On all but this very rare event, having accessible and cordial relation with community wherever they go.
We, who would have this society, must be generous in our attitude about youthful, creative, rebellion against authority. We must avoid our tendency to effect shame and submission, the bringing into line under authority just so we can have a sense of security as being a little higher on the hierarchy. We must recognise that in our own need for the advancement of civilisation lies a need for those who are devoted to working around authority and even sacrificing themselves against the true nature of authoritarianism.

When policing stops working for community.

World Religion Day 2020

Today is World religion day 2020. I’m the MC for the devotional event in my small rural community in far north Australia. While it is a small community – the local government are has about 18,000 people – there are around 40 ethnic groups representing all the larger religions of the world. Here is my welcoming address.

Eckhart Tolle, in telling the story of his coming to meditation, said, “ There’s great freedom … in not compulsively interpreting other people, situations, and so on, not imposing thinking continuously on the world, which is so alive and so fresh and new at every moment… What we are talking about here is a state of alert attention to what is … where you rise above thinking to a large extent in your life, still being able to use it, but not being used by it.” Interview with Krista Tipppet On Being

Eckhart Tolle is famous for his books and courses on meditation. Meditation and mindfulness have been made popular and perhaps the single most common modern person’s access to the spiritual life. For many people, meditation is access to happiness. And, as we will hear in today’s readings, across the various religious traditions, meditation has a vital role not always connected to our personal happiness, but always connected to a view of the human being as a relationship to God and ourselves as more powerful than we ordinarily consider.

Berlin_RoomofSilenceThe image you are seeing on the screen is a composite of the Brandeberg Gate in Berlin – a hub a tourist activity from all around the world. Off to one side, hosted by a committee of all the religious organisations in Berlin, a number a little bigger than those of our religions, here – is a Room of Silence. Anyone can enter and stay as long as they want, in meditation, reflection or silent prayer. The past 200 years of Berlin since Napolean has been fraught with tyranny and wars. Only these last 30 years since the Berlin Wall came down could it be said that Berlin has had reprieve. It really looks like it might keep that way. However we cannot build a fully human planet with paying attention to how we are human. And meditation is a crucial element to being human.

This comment from the World Community of Christian Meditation Interfaith Program is very relevant to todays gathering. “Religion is becoming more, not less important in the world today. It is urgent that the deep changes taking place in religious consciousness across all faiths and in their relationships are connected to the contemplative power residing at the heart of all the great wisdom traditions.

Meditation opens us to the common ground of humanity – and the essential goodness of human nature. The differences between traditions and cultures are as important and enlightening as their similarities. Meditation establishes a spiritual friendship between the members and practitioners of all faiths and ensures that the differences do not become divisions or false justifications for intolerance or violence.

Egg Boy & Dissonance

EggBoyHe’s not a hero. He’s 16. There’s a well-understood developmental trajectory he is on, part of which means his action are not particularly well thought out. That ‘getting into action’ that youth, especially certain young men, are known for, often leads into danger. Egg boy got punched twice by the politician  and then jumped on and choked by two or thee much larger men (white supremacist supporters of said politician). Well it happened in a public space so egg boy had some safety net in the form of observers and a couple of supporters.

Of course it is just that jumping into action that gives youth their impact. Double that with strong ethical training some youth, world-wide have made amazing contributions. And their contributions make it clear that almost all youth can reach that standard of peaceful action for social change – true heroes.

I am impressed that egg boy and his friends are not just off chillin’ with their mates and ignoring society altogether, as if tomorrow will give us the world ‘we deserve’. And sure, from his point of view, no-one was getting hurt, just a politican’s pride. But anyone being attacked from behind doesn’t knows that, and that can make it dangerous for egg boy. His actions for me are more a signifier, a flare of retaliation that peaceful people tend not to stoop but that more than enough of us ‘wish to do’, as many of my friends attest.

It signifies how many are feeling angry and hurt about these anti-social messages and our all too primate desire to obliterate what is painful to us, that is intruding onto our territory, albeit that territory is abstract ‘the territory of peace and harmony’. My advice is to sit with that dissonance between what we stand for as peace lovers and our actual attitudes and behaviours when confronted by haters. Reaching for an excuse for why even small acts of violence can be defended is a natural response to dissonance but not necessary. My authentic experience is that I delight in egg boys action while also realising, with some shame, that even this mild violence undermines the cause towards peace, and supports the messaging towards violence, just as Anning’s vocal violence supported the Christchurch mosque killings. I sit with this dissonance, accepting this is who I am, and that who I will Be, will be an authentic integration of my primal nature and my higher nature. While there are many other sources of learning around the heroic, adult, approach, so many of which are unknown to popular media, we would do well to review the activism of Martin Luther King in making social change, to see how powerful and heroic is the peaceful approach.


“Mistakes were made (but not by me)” by Tavris and Aronson is a punchy 240 pages about a fundamental driver of our human identity: cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of discomfort that occurs when we have two opposing ideas operating in our mind. For example, I think I am a good person, good people don’t yell at their neighbours, I yelled at my neighbours: so, either I am not a good person or there must be something about my neighbours that justifies a good person to yell at them. And thus also determines the way to war.

Cognitive dissonance seems to sit at the interface between our higher mind and our baser mind. The higher mind is a great space for virtuous idea and creativity. The base mind is all our instincts for survival. Both of these minds interact through our language centres and therein become our thought and our being. However, our baser mind provides hard wired outputs so that we can survive. Our higher mind requires educational sources, nurturing. So our baser mind can express in action almost quicker than we can think about what we are doing ie putting it into language eg be angry when feeling threatened. When an action from our baser mind expresses itself, we will most likely find ourselves at odds with our own higher mind. We experience a terrible discomfort, perhaps a deep guilt. This is cognitive dissonance. However, because we don’t like the feeling, we get rid of it by justifying our behaviour.

Self justification is behind good people doing even more terrible things. A man embezzles a million dollars from his company to pay his gambling debt. He starts by just a small amount which he pays back. But as he gambles, he takes more, and he can’t pay it back. Yet, he justifies, I will win big and all will be restored and I am a good person and I will give up gambling. But he never wins and eventually he is discovered. The small mistake, when justified, will lead to a greater and greater misdeed. Tavris and Aronson’s straightforward unfolding of the elements of Watergate, provide a strong lesson for all of us.

Tavris and Aronson identify several ways to deal with cognitive dissonance.

  1. Don’t be too ready to resolve it. Have sleepless nights. Turn your discomfort over and over. Where might you be self justifying, being right, making someone wrong. Where might you need to make a hard decision that is ethically the right one.
  2. If you have made a mistake, own up to it as soon as possible. If the mistake made a mess, you have to clean it up. You have to take the consequences. But the early mistake and consequences will be mild compared to an escalation of mistake and consequence through self justifying.
  3. Learn from the mistake. In fact live for the mistakes you make, the people who can alert you to them, and what you can learn. This will ensure that you become a great learner, a successful person, and avoid making very big mistakes with big consequences.
  4. I would add, encourage others for the effort they put into trying things, making mistakes, and particular, learning from them. Help others see mistakes, not to be right, but that they can try again, even if they fail again. This is accountability, this is empowerment. This is the place in which there is no failure, just (paraphrasing Edison) a million discoveries of what didn’t work so well, and, in looking at each one clearly, finding a great opening of possibility.

Remember, says Tavris and Aronson, you are a smart, capable person who made a mistake. You remain a smart, capable person. The mistake remains a mistake.

Punishment Doesn’t Work

On 8th March 2018, the Australian national broadcaster (ABC) ran this story of a father punishing his son for bullying by making him run to school. I am actually appreciative that this dad took a video of him driving behind the child and posting it, so that we can learn from it.
It and the supportive responses for it, does show the failure of most of society to understand the idea of consequence. This failure is not only why our child raising has created bullies and addicts but why prisons are overflowing with recidivists. Below is my take on it.

In the ABC article, bully experts like Dr Hannah Thomas, a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Queensland, said “punitive strategies like making the boy run were an attempt to teach the child to be accountable for their actions, but they didn’t always work.”They use shame, humiliation and guilt to try to motivate change in future behaviour,” she said.”This generally never changes behaviour in the long-term. It gives the child very limited opportunity to learn and acquire new skills — i.e. ways to interact in more positive and social ways with their peers.”Dr Thomas said these kinds of strategies can also have flow-on effects.”Children who are humiliated or shamed can internalise negative feelings about themselves that hinder their healthy development,” she said.”Children misbehave as they learn and develop. They need parents to be supportive when they make mistakes and to take a practical role in teaching their children how to behave more respectfully.”
What I see is that it gets down to consequences. There are two things to know about consequences: Punishment is not a consequence of someone’s action; and all actions come with unintended consequences.
Punishment is an indirect consequence of an action, and in many cases, that ‘indirectness’ is confounded by a complexity of agendas and motivations, often to the extent that it is of no consequence at all. If anything, punishment is often a pathway to a whole complexity of unintended consequences, the least of which is that the punished get that they are responsible for other’s distress and that they can be a different type of person in the world.
In this case there was a direct consequence to the boy’s bullying, he was put off the bus. The boy would have understood the relationship.
A consequence of the complaint to the parent was that the parent went into bullying mode. It seems Dad doesn’t have a conversational relationship with his son, probably an authoritarian one. His son is learning that authoritarian method, the being a three year old for the whole of your life, that is, of course, it is signified by bullying anyone as a control mechanism, a fabulous way to teach the next generation how to be a bully.
The consequence of the bullying mode by this parent is the boy being forced to run to school.
I have no problem the boy running to school. Great thing!
However, attached to that running to school is a punishment, is a bad idea!
This is where we have to get better at thinking through about unintended consequences. If we have learnt anything by listening to each other about why we find ourselves poorly motivated around some things as adults, it gets back to the unintended consequences of, sometimes, the most trivial thing a parent has done that has been completely misunderstood by the child. The consequence of establishing for your 10 year old son that running is what you do for punishment, when you do something wrong, can be that, later on in life, you run a lot and you do nothing wrong (even though you are really an A-1 tyrant), OR you do nothing wrong (you’re a nice guy) and you don’t run (you are fat, have a chronic disease by your 40s). Ultimately this boy is on a path to being either a bully for life or a failure to take-off.

The real issue though is of parenting. Parents who are in conversation with children from the time they are in the womb, parents who are self reflective in that conversation and can acknowledge with children where they messed up as well as taking a firm and clear stand with their children, parents who are up to something bigger than themselves and their family, in life, have children who aren’t bullies and grow up to be contributors to society.