Why Didn’t James Comey Confront Trump?

Lordy, I hope there are tapes.

James Comey

 

During former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee (June 8, 2017), Senator Marco Rubio asked Comey why he didn’t air his concerns about Trump immediately while he was still FBI director.

“I think the circumstances were such that I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind, and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m Captain Courageous; I don’t know whether even if I had the presence of mind I would’ve said to the president, ‘Sir, that’s wrong.’ I don’t know whether I would have. But in the moment, it didn’t come to my mind; what came to my mind was, ‘Be careful what you say.”

James Comey’s history reveals a courageous man. Was he showing false humility to avoid telling a deeper truth that he may not have been totally aware of?

I can imagine a different response from Comey to Rubio’s question:

I was stunned and caught off guard by the things President Trump said and the underlying messages he sent to me. I also felt repulsed by the nature of the man. My instincts told me at our dinner meeting (Jan. 27, 2017), ‘This is a dangerous moment’ and I better remember what he says and document it for he will lie about what he said if the meeting became important in the future. I focused on Trump, his words and his unspoken messages to me. I had to get through this meeting with my integrity intact and without getting fired. Not to save my job: I wanted to protect the Russia investigation from him and survive long enough to gather whatever evidence the President wanted to give me. I decided that I would document all future engagements with Trump. 

I knew some things intuitively: Confronting Trump would be futile and unproductive. He attacks anyone who confronts him. He would have refused enlightenment and efforts to educate him. I was not the President’s lawyer or advisor and it was not my job to school the President on how to do his job or to stop him from going down an inappropriate path that may become criminal. Besides, he wasn’t naïve, ignorant or inexperienced; he knew exactly what he was doing.

I talked to the Attorney General about not leaving me alone with the President. He said nothing. I did not trust him enough to say more to him. Resignation would have harmed the investigation and the FBI and there might not be a Special Counsel today had I quit. I knew without thinking about it that I would stay and do what I could to advance the Russia investigation and protect the integrity and independence of the FBI.

It was my job to document the facts and my experiences with the President. I would do so until I could no longer contain the situation and was put in a position by the President where I had no choice but to resign or sacrifice my integrity. I wondered how far he would go. I reviewed each conversation with Trump with my FBI staff and we discussed my strategy. I needed the documentation and witnesses to protect myself and the FBI. The evidence I documented led, I believe, to the appointment of the Special Counsel.

People considered Comey a smart political operative within the government bureaucracy. I suspect he was more calculating than he wanted to acknowledge–even, perhaps, to himself. I think his “calculating”–fully conscious and rational or on emotional and intuitive auto-pilot–was a good thing for it served a noble purpose and he carried his plan out ethically. For political reasons, maybe it was easier for Comey–a man who doesn’t like to talk about himself–to be self-deprecating about his personal courage than to share his deepest essence and personal reactions with the Senators. Comey may not be Captain Courageous but he has more nerve than most of us and he’s no naive boy scout.

I had several situations in the corporate world—as a leader and as a consultant—where I was threatened with the loss of my job or income if I did or didn’t do certain things that went against my values. I sat across from angry executives who insulted, demeaned and threatened me and who had no respect for niceties or talents for confrontation. I also sat across from executives who delivered dark metamessages with a soft tone and “safe’ words. Trump embraces both tactics to get what he wants. Like Comey, I felt stunned. Also confused and crazy. Imagining myself interrupting people of questionable intent who had power over me to tell them how badly they were handling themselves makes me laugh. I would have been fired and ridiculed for my naiveté. It is even more ludicrous to expect Comey to do so with Trump. Confront a mean narcissist? Get real. Comey had a greater purpose.

In dealing with such people, I often operated at a gut and intuitive level in real-time without the opportunity to think everything through as rationally as I might have liked. These were new, confusing and dangerous situations with no manual to tell me how to handle myself. My values guided me. It took me years to sort out some crazy situations and to make sense out of nonsense. I suspect James Comey will be reflecting on his “nonsense” experiences with Trump and his own feeling  and reactions for a long time.

The moment always came with those executives when I had to choose to sell my soul, quit or get fired. My commitment to truth and my values was deep and I never gave in to threats made by powerful people. Comey managed his situation as long as he could without selling his soul. Trump fired him before Comey felt he had to resign (May 8, 2017).

It’s hard to stand up for our values in a world filled with madness. James Comey faced darker craziness with far greater things at stake than I ever had to deal with. He did so in the public eye certain to be criticized and attacked. He is a noble and honorable man.

I look up to the James Comey’s of the world who—often alone–stand up to malevolent people with full knowledge that they will suffer personally for their commitment to something larger than themselves: in Comey’s case a powerful allegiance to our Constitution and to the integrity and independence of the FBI and to his own values.

I was once asked disdainfully, “Who do you think you are, the keeper of the values?”

Yes, I am the keeper of the values and so are you and you and you.

Lifelong Learning

In the 2000’s, the American Dream faded for millions of Americans. As the 2016 presidential election approached, work rates were at their lowest levels in decades. Millions of people had dropped out of the work force and income insecurity grew. An opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroin spread across white America often funded by Medicaid and disability insurance, which had become long-term unemployment insurance for many. A study showed that nearly half of all working-age male labor-force dropouts—about 7 million men—took pain medication daily.

Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies.” Suicide, chronic liver cirrhosis and drug overdoses account for much of the increase in death rates.

Many felt left behind in a world that moved faster than most of us could keep up with. Millions no longer trusted politicians, government or America’s institutions. People felt angry, afraid and anxious because America was not going in the right direction for them. Their lives were difficult and getting harder.

The time was perfect for Donald Trump. He promised he would “make America great again.” He would withdraw from globalization. He would bring manufacturing jobs home. And he would give great health care to everyone. He would build physical and psychological walls to keep Muslims and Hispanics out. He called them criminals and terrorists. I call them poor and powerless, mostly women and children, in search of a safe-haven.

Citizens didn’t have to be anxious about climate change: it was a Chinese hoax. Trump would get rid of the EPA, eliminate regulations, exploit our national parks and national monuments and double down on consuming finite resources. If facts and truth got in the way, we would use alternative facts: truth and reality would be what we wanted them to be. Fantasized wishes and opinions would replace science. Together we could create our own imaginary world and live happily ever after. Life would be great.

Working class Americans felt “heard” by Trump. Millions so wanted to believe in him. Their desire to believe clouded their judgement, emotion trumped reason and the unfit and needy con man who lies more than he tells the truth became president.

Today only a few months into his presidency, Trump’s lies cover up his picking the pockets of the American people. Trump betrays those who voted for him and he and Republicans in Congress will continue to cater to the wealthy–indifferent to the suffering of everyone else. His biggest lie was about “healthcare for everyone.” His plan takes healthcare from 23 million Americans and is more a transfer of wealth from everyday Americans to the richest two percent of us than a healthcare plan.

Millions need to deal with addiction.  Trump made combating the nation’s drug-overdose problem a focal point of his presidency. “We will stop the drugs from pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” he said… “and we will expand treatment for those who have become so badly addicted .” Trumpcare will, in all probability, reduce funding for treatment for Opioid addiction when the nation needs it the most.

More lies will be exposed: Globalization isn’t going away; we must be engaged in the world. Manufacturing jobs will not return; coal miners won’t get their jobs back. Climate change is real and we better get honest about the dangers: wars, famines, mass migrations and economic collapse. Walls won’t protect us, alternative facts won’t make reality go away and opioids, heroin and alcohol won’t restore purpose and meaning to our lives—only values, purpose and meaningful work will do that. Trump’s “make America great again” is a road to decline.

We can think of working class Americans as canaries in the coal mine. The issues that drove them to Trump may one day be everyone’s issues, their stories may be our stories. No group or economic class will be immune from the greed, selfishness and the lust for power of the Trump’s of the world. They have no loyalties other than to their own ego’s. We have to say “NO” to “Trumpism” and the dark side of humanity that he symbolizes if we want to have any dreams in America.

We need to be aware of two highly probable future realities: Technology will continue to evolve rapidly and many great advancements will come from robotics, biogenics, nano-technology and artificial intelligence. But technology has a dark side that we need to manage: addiction, distraction, the loss of freedom and the loss of our humanity. And unemployment and income insecurity in the working class alert us to a future that will affect almost everyone. In the decades ahead, massive numbers of people will lose their jobs to technology: lawyers, doctors and accountants along with cab drivers and clerks. Some jobs will become obsolete; others will be done by robots, machines and workers in other nations. We need to adapt.

Thomas Friedman in his book Thanks for Being Late wrote that we must become lifelong learners: we must continually learn new things and develop new skills if we want to even begin to keep up with change and have a place in the future. To be employable from now on, we must reinvent ourselves throughout our lives–life is learning.

Lifelong learning might strike us as a small fix to complex challenges today and in the decades ahead. But the impact of valuing learning and weaving learning processes into the fabric of all aspects of life: you, me, our schools, our organizations, our communities and our local, state and national government and institutions would bring forth massive creativity, evolve our capabilities and prepare us for a future life more different than most of us can imagine today. Such change will require a well-balanced mix of government help and personal drive and responsibility. The alternative might be spending our productive years sitting in front of screens stoned on drugs and living on a small stipend or disability check (See: Homo Deus by Yuval Harari for more about the future of work and massive unemployment).

But we need to do more than just develop new job skills. We must also learn how to navigate difficult changes easier and faster. Friedman wrote, “Every society and every community must compound the rate at which it reimagines and reinvents its social technologies, because our physical technologies will not likely be slowing anytime soon.”

I used the work of William Bridges to manage external change and the internal emotional transitions that accompany external changes and must be guided if we want changes to be implemented well. A deeper understanding of change helps people make changes easier and faster and also helps people tolerate uncertainty and cope with chaos and complexity better. If you or your organization can change easier and faster, you will have a competitive advantage.

Daniel Quinn wrote in Ishmael: Perhaps the flaw in man is exactly this: that he doesn’t know how he ought to live. We need to do more than learn new job skills and learn how to change faster. We need to learn how to live differently. Our way of life and our existence as a species is threatened by our addictive consumption of the earth’s biomass. Earth is over-populated and we cannot sustain our way of life for much longer. Either we will change or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen soon.

We must see reality clearly and we must create new, positive stories for our collective future and unite around them. Then we can leave Trumpism behind and consider it a bad episode in America’s history.

 

 

Bring Light to Dark Places

Every day repulsive Donald Trump shocks us with his malicious and bottomless dark side, his lack of a rational thought process and his lust for love, cruel behavior, overall incompetence and deceitful and self-delusional promotion of himself. Every word and deed services a limitless and unrestrained ego spewed on the world from the most powerful and esteemed office in the world. How did we end up with this vile reality TV charlatan as President?

Almost more painful to watch than Trump are the sycophants who fawn over and enable him: smart people who have sold their souls and don’t seem to care about the harm they inflict on the world if they get their reward whether it be money or celebrity or momentary power.

A prerequisite for being in relationship with Trump is a willingness to be diminished as a human being. Those who refuse to be made smaller quit or get expelled from Trump world. Perhaps a few brave souls choose to stay and suffer the indignity of Trump to help the nation. They too will reach their limit.

Worst of all may be the repugnant Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and those who follow them in our Congress who seem willing to sacrifice our democracy and hurt our people for tax cuts for the richest Americans who do not need the money–all at the expense of poor, working and middle class Americans.

The election of Trump was a national expression of poor judgement. I no longer believe that there is wisdom in the electorate. I fear for our democracy when fake news and alternative facts go mainstream and replace truth, reason and science for many people who don’t care or take the time to recognize and separate truth from fiction.  Did many voters choose distraction and entertainment over thinking and discernment?  I think so.

Spiritual writers tell us that a spiritual awakening is spreading across the planet. I believe they are right. But others have said the same thing for decades. I wonder if the movement grows fast and large enough to bring light to the darkness in time. Many people choose to live in the shadows of a fake reality and to be distracted and entertained instead of doing the hard work of seeing reality accurately. I have little hope for them.

This essay is for those who want to wake up and evolve as people.

My edited 2002 version of The Allegory of Plato’s Cave. I believe it fits today’s world in which many do not see reality accurately.

The allegory describes a scenario in which what people believe to be real is, in fact, an illusion.

Imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who are chained and cannot move. They can only look at the wall directly in front of them. Behind the prisoners an enormous fire blazes continually, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads. Sounds made by the people on the walkway echo off the walls of the cave and make new noises. The prisoners cannot see the raised walkway or the people walking, but they watch and talk about the shadows cast on the wall by the people, not knowing they are shadows. The prisoners believe the shadows to be real and the sounds to be coming from the figures on the walkway, not just reflections of a different reality, since the shadows are all they had ever seen.

Imagine that a prisoner is freed and permitted to go outside of the cave and look around. The prisoner would be shocked to see that the shadows are only reflections of a more encompassing reality and that everything he thought he and his fellow prisoners knew about reality was wrong. If the prisoner returned to the cave, he would return as a changed person who could never again believe or act in the old way because the world was now a different place. The changed  person would want to act on his new understanding, could not bear to be confined in the cave any longer, and would pity his fellow prisoners. He would want to share his new wisdom with the other prisoners, but they would reject his new knowledge and would make fun of him because the reality they understood had not changed.

The cave prisoners know nothing but the shadowy reality of their limited world. They could not relate to a world they have never seen. The more aware prisoner would be seen as a threat to the established ways of seeing the world. The prisoners would not embrace the new world but would deny it, fear it, and cling more tightly to the old world.

Each of us has Plato’s Caves of our lives—places where ego, fear, greed, habits, wounds, denial, addiction, conformity, ignorance, manipulation, and even a cherished way of life blind us to greater insight, awareness, perspective, authenticity and possibilities. Caves are places where we mistake false appearances for reality. We can’t see what we are blind to.

But every once in a while, we get pushed, dragged—or even venture willingly—out of one of our caves. For example, the alcoholic on his deathbed is forced to make a choice of life or death. If he chooses to stay in his cave, he will die. If he chooses life, he must then see himself as he is—always the first step of change— not as his delusions and self-deception tell him he is. At first he is as mad as can be at this forced change. It is always painful to be confronted with our false realities. But he slowly becomes acclimated to a new reality. Increased self-awareness and new knowledge bring forth new ways to live with meaning and purpose. This transformation is often called a spiritual awakening.

Like drunks, everyday people have their caves too. Some never leave the caves of their lives and live what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” Others may leave a cave or two and then stop—content with their lives. Still others understand that our worlds have many caves in them. They know they’ll never run out of caves to abandon in search of greater aliveness. They are determined to seek out the caves of their lives and leave them proactively because caves always eventually confine or threaten their spirits.

Despite the loss and fear of change, these seekers choose intentionally to jump into new situations, new learning, and diverse adventures to expand their empathy, experience, and understanding. These people don’t stop leaving the caves of their lives until they die and no one knows what happens after death; perhaps the adventures continue. Whatever the circumstances, leaving a cave involves an inner shift that brings forth a deep examination and change of values, beliefs, and assumptions that evolve life.

The spiritual awakening of the alcoholic, the insights of everyday people, the enlightenment of the seeker, and the moment of metanoia — a change of the inner person–are similar, as each requires a temporary surrender of the ego, a re-ordering of the psyche, and a fundamental shift of perception.

No one who experiences this transformation will ever see the world in the same ways again. We should not be too proud of our initial inner expansion for we will be called over and over again to leave cave after cave, and journeys always humble the traveler. Of course we can choose at any time to refuse the summons of change and stay back.

Leaving a cave can be dangerous. Some cave-mates feel threatened when others change; they prefer the comfort of distraction and self-deception. They work hard to lure the courageous one back into the status-quo. The fearful might try to bribe or threaten the adventurer. They might lie or manipulate. They may say bad things. Those who dare to venture into the unknown are sure to become alienated from some long-time cave-mates.

We live in times of danger and difficulty. New threats loom over every horizon. Our planet is threatened and our way of life in peril–threatened from within. Fakes and charlatans with venal and regressive visions that return us to a more primitive condition clamor for our trust. We can look around and see how people under great stress—from our national leaders to everyday people in organizations, to the fringes of our political parties—become small, petty, and greedy and try to return to their old caves for safety. Some deny fact and truth. Others can feel strongly about every side of an issue depending on the audience. Some reject science for self-serving opinion. Many substitute intellectual honesty with black, white, and senseless beliefs grounded in fear and their inability to cope with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life. Their fear consumes them, and they live in darkness. In dangerous times, we need to be our best selves, not our worst.

We have only one healthy choice: to find the caves of our lives, to see reality clearly—even when it is painful—and to do what we can to become more wise, conscious, discerning and compassionate. There is no going backwards unless we want the dangers of our world to become realities.

Trust the Process

Life is a process. We are a process. The universe is a process.

Anne Wilson Schaef

 Jack Kornfield in Path With Heart told the lesson in patience and unintended consequences from Zorba the Greek:

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

Zorba’s not alone in his impatience and lack of trust in the process of life to unfold naturally.

I went on a photo workshop in Yellowstone National Park with professional wildlife photographer Tom Murphy. Tom said he could always tell which photographers were from the city: They jumped out of their cars, took a quick picture and jumped back in their cars to get to the next location. He advised us to be patient and to watch and observe animal behavior and get some great photos in the process.

I’ve been an amateur nature and wildlife photographer for a long time. I’m always in a hurry to get the next location—to jam as much into the time I have. I wonder how many great shots I’ve missed because I couldn’t sit still to watch and wait for the behaviors of the wildlife I watched or for the light to be a bit better over the scene I wanted to photograph. Only in the past few years have I tried to tame those inner drives. I was the same in my work. My friend, consultant and Clinical Psychologist Diane Olson, Ph.D. said I had the intensity gene.

To become patient and to trust the process of life may be the biggest challenge I have.

I have so much I want to do, so much I want to learn. The speed of change in our world increases faster than I can keep up. Aging only intensifies my intensity to move fast before I run out of time. The madness of our world makes it hard to trust in the process of life.

I began to meditate a couple of years ago hoping to understand my mind better and calm my inner drives. Maybe I can uproot my impatience and accept that I am not in control. Meanwhile, I can be aware of my impatience and difficulty in “trusting the process” and make conscious choices to act counter to my inner drives.

I think many of us feel exhausted and overwhelmed due to our impatience and pace of life. In Uncommon Friends, author James Newton shared a letter he received from Anne Lindbergh who wrote about her pace of life:

I have not yet learned quite how to deal with those periods when one is learning and living too fast to digest. There was a wonderful story once told by Andre Gide of a trip he took through the jungle, very fast, with African guides. One morning the native guides sat around in a circle and refused to move. When Gide urged them on, saying he was in a hurry to get somewhere, they looked up at him seriously, reproachfully, but with complete rock-like firmness and said, “Don’t hurry us-we are waiting for our souls to catch up with us.

I want to do my small part to contribute to sanity and greater consciousness in the world. One way you and I can do that is to slow down and take time to be present without thought and separate time to think quietly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media: Excess and Addiction

How We Spend Our Days is How We Spend Our Lives–Annie Dillard

Melanie, granddaughter Saige and I were at the lake in northern Minnesota last July (2016) during the Republican National Convention. Obsessed with the presidential campaigns, I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to the Republican speakers. But I had FOMO: fear of missing out, I had to know what was going on. I turned to Twitter.

I followed my favorite pundits, experts, consultants and journalists. Tapping the Twitter icon was the first thing I did upon waking and the last thing I did before a fitful night’s sleep. I checked my phone constantly throughout the day. I’d go through new Tweets and see the notification that I had newer Tweets and I would begin scrolling all over again.

My body was at the tranquil lake with Melanie and Saige; my attention was fragmented and scattered all over the angry and anxious political landscape. I felt guilty about what I was doing and unhappy with what I was reading but I kept checking my phone apps: Twitter, Facebook and newspaper headline notifications. Every click of an icon brought me a new jolt of fear, energy or joy depending on the news of the moment. I knew my behavior was physically and emotionally unhealthy but I didn’t want to quit; I wanted more. My mix of fight/flight adrenaline and happy dopamine levels must have maxed out. When I felt depressed being away, I went to my phone for another fix. I was out of control.

Today, when Melanie and I spend time with Saige, they talk and laugh about their time at the lake–they have great memories. I remember the angst I felt and my crazy behavior that I did not like.

Tristan Harris, previously a Design Ethicist at Google, now leads Time Well Spent, a nonprofit movement to align technology with our humanity. He wrote that the average person checks her phone 150 times a day. I am not alone. Many addicts and potential addicts click away out there.

In a podcast interview with Sam Harris, Tristan Harris said app users should recognize that 1000 engineers work behind the screens empowering people to spend more time on the apps. Put more bluntly: Intentional or not, app designers, with no set of values to guide them, seek to maximize profits by manipulating users to spend more and more time on their apps. Some users become addicted with damage to their jobs, lives, health and relationships. Designers don’t try to help us make better life choices: they want our attention. We need to be aware of the dark side of technology so we can make smart choices for how we use our devices.

I quit Twitter on November 9, 2016. I stopped watching anxiety provoking cable news shows. I read newspapers for my news and quit going to their home pages many times a day for fear of missing something. I don’t look at my phone in bed or when with others. I recently decided to limit my time on Facebook to one short time period a day. I block out time for Internet surfing instead of going on and off it mindlessly many times throughout the day

Most important to me: I block out quiet morning hours to meditate and read books or listen to podcasts that challenge me and to write, which makes me think. These activities fulfill me and stretch my aging brain. I do not use any phone apps or visit the Internet before or during this period of time. I turned my phone notifications off so they won’t steal my attention and disrupt my focus and concentration. I believe that brains high-jacked by phone apps and constant interruptions are diminished brains.

To try to find meaning, purpose, self-esteem, and a sense of community from an addiction is futile and guaranteed to end in serious suffering. I know how hard it is to break an addiction: I quit smoking cold turkey 35 years ago and drinking in 1974. I consider myself a sugar addict. After a sugar binge, it takes three days of abstinence for the craving to subside. I resist app/Internet temptations daily. I replace them with healthy alternatives. I know from experience that the craving will pass. Excessive users may be able to break their habit on their own. Addicts whose behaviors interfere with work, school or relationships may need help.

I have a finite amount of attention to give and I don’t want to waste it. I want to give my attention to people I love and to activities that make me feel alive naturally. I don’t want my brain hijacked and dumbed-down or manipulated into addictions or excessive use of phone apps that drain my time, energy, attention and enrich others.

The Internet, iPhones and the apps available to us  are tools for us to use with thoughtful awareness to help us live more efficient, more productive and better lives. We need to be aware of the dark side of these tools and make our own choices about how to use them or the machines will make choices for us and absorb us. Now is the time to learn to use them in life-enhancing ways because future technologies will be more threatening to our humanity and freedom.

I look forward to being present at the lake with Melanie and Saige this summer.

 

 

The Singularity

The human being of 200 years from now will be more different from the human being of today than the human being of today is from Neanderthals or chimpanzees. Yuval Harari (paraphrased) to Ezra Klein, Feb. 28, 2017.

Thomas Friedman wrote in Thanks for Being Late that the rate of change of major new technologies is more than twice as fast as our ability to absorb the changes and will only grow faster. We cannot stop the technology that transforms our lives. We have to learn to change faster or be left behind.

Tristan Harris, former Google product manager, on 60 Minutes (April 9, 2017) said that Silicon Valley designs our smart phones to addict us to them. We are being programmed, usually without our awareness. Gradually, choice by choice, we give up our thoughts, feelings and actions to the machines.

Yuval Harari wrote in Homo Deus that technology will put masses of people out of work. They will be unemployed and unemployable. He wrote that we may have to pay people to not work and drug them to make them happy and give them advanced video games to play all day.

We can see the beginnings of these trends today:

Nicholas N. Eberstadt wrote in Our Miserable 21st Century in Commentary Magazine that the opioid epidemic of pain pills and heroine has ravaged and shortened lives from coast to coast.

He wrote that nearly half of all prime working-age male labor-force dropouts—approximately seven million men—take pain medication daily—paid for mostly by Medicaid. These men don’t use their free time helping around the home or volunteering in their communities. Instead they spend up to 2,000 hours a year watching their electronic devices—TV, DVDs, Internet, smartphones, etc. That is their full-time job. We can imagine Harari’s future: millions of un-working men in the prime of life, out of work and unemployable, sitting stoned in front of screens. What does this say about the future of Democracy?

I wrote this essay in July, 2005. How does it fit our world of 2017?

Quotes from scientists:

Those of us alive today, over the course of our lifetimes, will morph ourselves into machines. We are trying to build robots that have properties of living systems….In just 20 years the boundary between fantasy and reality will be rent asunder. Rodney Allen Brooks (Director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT and author of Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us.)

…If we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn’t we? Gregory Stock (director of the Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society at the School of Medicine of the University of California)

Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior species. Hans Moravec (Carnegie Mellon University)

The emergence in the early twenty-first century of a new form of intelligence on Earth that can compete with, and ultimately significantly exceed, human intelligence will be a development of greater import than any of the events that have shaped human history. Ray Kurzweil (inventor and author of Spiritual Machines)

Are they mad scientists or prophets?

You decide.

Genetics, robotics, and nanotechnology fed by the exponentially increasing power and speed of information technology intertwine and multiply one another in symbiotic relationships. They are poised to rupture, alter, and perhaps even destroy the fabric of human nature—our minds, souls, mortality, consciousness, personalities, our imperfection, our physical makeup, our freedom of choice, and the indefinable that makes us who we are.

The machines thrive.

Today computing power rides a curve of exponential change unprecedented in human history, and the exponential change itself will continue to accelerate. Moore’s Law states that the power of information technology will double every 18 months. In 2002, the 27th doubling occurred with a billion-transistor chip. A doubling means that the next step is as tall as all the previous steps put together. Twenty-seven consecutive doublings of anything man-made remains unprecedented in human history—until now. The growth curve goes straight up. The potential systemic impact of such power translated to new technologies (genetics, robotics, nanotechnology) and on all of life staggers the mind.

When Moore’s Law exhausts itself it most likely will be followed by a new technological paradigm that will grow even faster. There may be no limits.

We are on the verge of an almost unimaginable future: what scientists call the Singularity. At the point of Singularity technology evolves so rapidly that our everyday world no longer makes sense—we enter a massive neutral zone—a place of no rules. We probably cannot escape this “perfect storm” of chaos; we must go through it.

Author Vernor Vinge wrote of the essence of the Singularity: A super humanity–artificially created. Soon machines smarter than the human brain will be created according to Vinge (See Vernor Vinge on the Singularity available various places on the internet). Ray Kurzweil, author of The Spiritual Machines (www.kurzweilAI.net) wrote that the implications of this change include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence and immortal software-based humans.

As entities with greater than human intelligence are created most intelligence on the planet will become nonbiological and changes in all other aspects of life will accelerate dramatically—including the more rapid creation of even more intelligent entities on a shorter time scale. We will not be able to think and absorb fast enough to keep up with the changes.

Vinge wrote that this change will be comparable to the rise of human life on earth. This will be a unique transition with profound systemic implications for humanity fraught with unpredictability and unintended consequences.

Will we create a new heaven on earth with all problems solved? Or will a new hell on earth emerge where the technology goes bad and the machines rule and humans become their slaves? Or will life continue as it has in the past—imperfect and creative–just with new complexities to cope with?

As I write this essay I am reading the books, Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau and Frankenstein by Dean Koontz—the first non-fiction–the second fiction. As I alternate between the books I have trouble distinguishing the facts from the fiction. The boundaries between fiction and reality blur and foreshadow the approach of the Singularity where the technologies of genetics, information technology, robotics, and nanotechnology merge.

Koontz described Victor Frankenstein who wanted to live forever and save the world from the imperfections of spirit and emotion—including love—unnecessary in a purely material world without spirituality. Some might call him mad. Others would call him driven, brilliant, and totally absorbed in filling the holes within himself by eliminating them in future models of the human being.

Koontz’s scientist creates soulless beings that look like real people and programs them genetically without moral dimensions. Their minds fill with information downloaded from computers. The live out predetermined lives in service of the scientist with no ability to control their own destinies. The machines of flesh become the successor race.

Garreau, the non-fiction writer, described a world of telekinetic monkeys that can move distant objects via their thoughts, fictional super-heroes whose imaginary powers are now real or almost real and “better” human beings artificially enhanced by machines. The telekinetic monkey (near telepathic) foreshadows future human telepathy, the imaginary heroes become soldiers who heal themselves, can go a week without sleep, and can run at Olympic sprint speeds for 15 minutes on one breath of air.

Garreau described machine enhanced people of many potential breeds who live for hundreds of years. Nanobots (nano robots) the size of human blood cells cruise their bloodstreams and attack pathogens, build new cells, and grow new organs. People separate into the enhanced—those who choose to be altered–and the naturals—those who choose to not be altered. Will the naturals become the pets or the slaves of the enhanced?

Parents could potentially order their new child gene by gene over the internet to be delivered to them on their schedule. Who or what would this child be? What would be its connection to the past, to a family, to those who come later? And what would happen when, a few months later, even more fully enhanced genetic models become available that make this state of the art child obsolete? Would the child ever forgive those who created her? Science fiction has merged with the vision of science.

Koontz’s creatures yearn to feel and to be happy like the inferior humans they were created to replace. They know they lack something within themselves despite their “perfection.” This yearning threatens the scientist’s control and leads to unintended chaos as the machines break the rules they were programmed to follow and genetic creation goes astray. Could super-intelligent machines in our “real” world do the same and turn against their creators?  In Garreau and Koontz, fact and fantasy merge.

When Garreau asked a researcher to reflect on the meaning and the consequences of his work, the reply was, “That’s above my pay grade.” People are changing our world and toying with our human nature without much thought as to what they are doing. They are having too much fun to consider that the unintended consequences might be bad. This is irresponsible. It remains up to you and me to set the initial conditions for this development, whatever it may be, and to hold creators accountable for their creations. For we do care about what “not so fun” things could happens to our humanity.

Some believe that to save our humanity and even our species, we must stop this technological development. Scientist Bill Joy wrote: “…We are on the cusp of the further perfection of extreme evil….” (See Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us in the April 2000 issue of Wired magazine) I believe that we cannot stop or control this development. People always seek to improve themselves and their lives. This will not change.

If we push development underground it will only free the technology from ethical and moral considerations. The technology and its impact on our lives and the potential impact on the human soul will not be stopped. What development can happen, will happen—our human nature drives us.

Others believe that the future technology will lead to a heaven on earth with all problems finally solved. We become God and create Heaven. Kurzweil: “We see exponentially greater love.” I believe that these are the beliefs of the pseudoinnocent (see Pamphlet 50). Pseudoinnocence colludes with evil as it denies the imperfection of human beings—artificially enhanced or not.

Evil will continue to exist, and villains will continue to utilize whatever means are available to them to meet their sinister objectives. The insane, immoral, immature, and irresponsible among us will sell their souls for the currency of the day, as they always have, and there will continue to be people of weak spirit and character who will use technology to exploit others. I do not believe there will be man-made gods or a heaven on earth.

For the past decade many have railed against the mechanistic world view and the devastating unintended consequences of a world view that dehumanizes people. I’ve spoken and written of the conscious evolution of our humanity for years (wholeness, authenticity, relationships) because I believe our spiritual development is crucial to reversing the environmental mess we’ve created, which threatens our way of life. We can now add exponential technical development to the threats to our species. We need to pay attention.

Singularity or not, I see the potential for life to create differently than the technologically driven linear projections of heaven or hell—gods or devils. Instead of being led by technology, we can lead technology. To do so effectively we must accelerate our maturity as people and communities and bring forth a creative renaissance of relationships that will transform life on this planet.

The global transformation we are in has spiritual and technical elements. They must not compete or, I fear, the spiritual will be driven deeply underground. We must wisely manage the use of our technical genius. We must embrace the technology that threatens our humanity and outfox the creative dark side of human nature with the creative light of our humanity. We must use the very tools of our potential destruction to outwit those who would destroy our unique humanness in their grandiosity. We must absorb the technology into our greater life force. The spiritual must transcend the technical; people must transcend machines.

Can we preserve our species, retain our humanity, and become even more human in the face of unprecedented pressure and temptation to step outside of a caring and creative human nature? Can and will the good, well-intended people, who comprise the vast majority of people on this planet, find the inner courage and strength to say, “We must manage this wisely and holistically?” To do so we must catch up socially and culturally to our technical development so we can find solutions to problems faster. We must apply our deepest human values to this technology.

I believe that in the chaos of today’s world, if we wish to retain our human nature as we intuitively understand it, we must focus first on being whole, imperfect, and authentic people connected to one another by a shared vision for our collective future. This movement must leap willingly into an unknown future and see creative potential in uncertainty. We will evolve through our creativity, not technological determinism. The impact of such a focus would be profound.

Abraham Maslow wrote that to save our world we must create the “good person.” He defined the good person as:

The self-evolving person,

The fully human person,

The self-actualizing person….

Long ago Confucius wrote that the cultivation of the person must be the root of everything else. Playwright Vaclav Havel wrote: “Transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction.” I believe that Havel, Maslow, and Confucius meant creativity and spirituality when they wrote of transcendence, human cultivation, and self-actualization, not people crossing over to be linear, literal, and dehumanized machines. They understood that each authentic life lived fully provides the diversity to insure the sustainability of humanity. I don’t care about being mechanically perfect; I care about being creatively imperfect.

Each of these great thinkers calls forth images of people who continually grow in complexity in a more natural way. The goal (for me) becomes to use the technology in our spiritual quests to realize our deepest sense of purpose and authenticity. We can deepen and expand our creativity, compassion, and connection with self, others, and nature. We can create meaning in our lives as free, responsible, and spiritual people. We can use the technology to help us do so. We can say “NO” to any technology that threatens who we are in our essential spiritual being and intimate connectedness to self, others, and nature.

Life is about heroic journeys. The human spirit that suffers in our world today must renew itself for the greatest challenge in our brief history on the planet Earth:

The critical challenge of our lifetime may well be to use explosive technical development to preserve and enhance our humanity rather than to have it destroyed by the mindless acceleration of technology without though as to the unintended consequences.

What are the technological lines we will not cross? How do we decide? Who decides?

I don’t know. I do know that we need deep and broad awareness and dialogue among people of the world.

I do believe that we must go forward into the unknown with care, caution, awareness, and thoughtfulness. We must plan, act, reflect, and adapt as we proceed. We have much to think about.

Thomas Friedman wrote in a recent New York Times article (July 27, 2005) that America’s most serious deficit today is a deficit of leaders who can talk about long-term problem-solving and the national interest. Leadership will not come from nationalistic politicians more concerned about re-election than our shared future on this planet or corporate leaders more concerned about riches than sustainability. Nor can the future of humanity be left to engineers, scientists, and technicians who do not want to be responsible or accountable for their creations.

You and I and all global citizens are responsible for the future. We get to choose who we will be in the future. We can be creative spiritually as well as creative technically. We can imagine and create the future we want. Or, as Friedman wrote, we can “Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.”

To be continued.

I wrote about and tried to teach consulting clients to learn how to change organizations faster as a competitive advantage 20 years ago. My management team and I talked about lifelong learning in the early 90’s. John Gardner wrote about lifelong learning in the 1960’s. Most have not paid attention.

Do we hear politicians talking about the issues of technology?

Trump and Trumpism are a dysfunctional denial of what is happening in America and globally. They can do great damage but they cannot stop the forces at play—unless they blow all of us up.

It appears that many of us are on the path to being victims of these transformations. We can choose differently. What happens is up to us.

We begin with awareness: Do we use technology as a tool to evolve our humanity or do we fall under its control and give up our attention one choice at a time? Do we set our own agendas or do we let the machines gradually control our attention, feelings and actions? Do we let smartphones and computer algorithms make our decisions for us? Do we continually learn and reinvent ourselves over and over again throughout our lives to avoid being unemployed and unemployable? Do we resist efforts to go backwards to decline and go forward into the unknown future boldly?

It is up to us.

Why Would You Hurt Me This Way?

We’re getting the bad ones out. Bad people out of this country—people that shouldn’t be whether its drugs, murder…. Donald Trump speaking to followers.

 

I was a new Special Agent in the U.S. Secret Service—only a couple of weeks on the job. My boss assigned me my first case to investigate: A deceased man’s Railroad Retirement checks were cashed for several months after his death.

I went to the retirement home where his widow lived. She was old and frail, kind and cooperative. She acknowledged cashing his checks after he died. She thought it was okay. She said to me, “I can pay back a dollar a month.” I said, “That will not be necessary.” If I had to take a dollar a month from this lady, I didn’t want to be a Secret Service agent. I closed the case. No one objected.

I watched a news report recently and felt saddened by the reports of good people being swept up under Trump’s executive order on immigration. He said he wasn’t after people with minor criminal records or who made administrative mistakes. His order said otherwise.

One husband and father, in the United States for 16 years, was arrested and quickly deported to El Salvador for missing a meeting. His wife wept as she asked, “Why would you hurt me like this? Why would you hurt my kids this way?”

Another man was pulled over by ICE agents as he drove his children to school. He was arrested in front of his children while his 13-year-old daughter video-taped his arrest. His serious crime? A DWI 10 years prior.

A woman spoke publically about her fear of deportation. Shortly afterward, she was pulled over, detained and awaits deportation for overstaying her visa. She has lived in the United States for 16 years.

And the stories go on and on across the country. Millions of people live in fear.

ICE agents had discretion in these cases. They could leave these people alone. It’s easy to build up one’s statistics by prioritizing such people. People inflate numbers all the time to make themselves look better or for political use. I haven’t read of the arrests or deportations of any murderers or rapists. I wonder how ICE agents feel about these arrests—often done in cruel ways? If I was a young ICE agent, I would ask, “Is this what I have to do to be an ICE agent?”

We will remember Donald Trump as a cruel man without compassion.

I believe people allowed to live and work freely here for as long as these people were should be allowed to remain here forever. We should not break up families.

One way we resist Trumpism is to refuse to behave as he does: We tell the truth, have a higher purpose, treat others with respect, act with compassion and always seek to grow in our awareness of what is happening right in front of us.

The “bad ones” are not those being snatched off the streets.