- The Call to Connect program (run by Avenues to Wellness).
The goal: Help people who are feeling isolated and lonely by bringing them human connection over the phone.
The method: A CTC participant is matched with a buddy who “listen[s] in a non-judgmental way” over phone calls. People interested in receiving or giving help through CTC call the program coordinator, who conducts a “brief orientation and interview,” then “[matches] you with a CTC ‘buddy.'”
Audience & scope: The CTC program is focused on the local area of Willits and the surrounding Mendocino County.
Associations: The CTC program is run by Avenues to Wellness, which “facilitates community wellness in Willits, California, and the surrounding areas.” Avenues to Wellness is a program of the Frank R. Howard Foundation.
(Last updated 1/31/2021)
- Re:store Justice California.
The problem: The United States’ system of justice focuses on punishing criminals by isolating them from their communities. This may temporarily prevent them from doing further harm, but it doesn’t resolve or heal the damage already done to victims, communities, and offenders.
The goal: “Provide healing to survivors, restore responsible parties to their families and communities, and prevent future harms to interpersonal relationships and communities.”
The method: Restorative Dialogues, “a process in which the victim/survivor of a crime, or the surviving family members, and the person responsible for hard meet face-to face in a safe and secure setting… The primary objective is for the survivor to feel heard, and for the responsible party to fully understand the effects of what he or she has done.”
An episode of the podcast Ear Hustle features a restorative dialogue between two people who have been on opposite sides of the sex trafficking experience.
(Last updated 2/1/2021)
- Prison of Peace
The goal: “Reduce violence and promote peaceful conflict resolution among prison inmates.” Prison of Peace tries to make long-term, sustainable institutional change toward this goal.
The method: Inmates go through sequential levels of training. In the first level, inmates learn perspectives and skills of Restorative Justice, Essential Problem Solving Skills (based on the book People Skills by Robert Bolton), Peace Circles, and Moral Disengagement (presumably based on the book by Albert Bandura). Then the second level teaches mediation skills.
At the third and fourth levels, inmates are trained to be trainers who can then bring other inmates through the program. Prison of Peace believes that people with these skills can become healing parts of their community, continuously improving the experiences of everyone else in the institution, which is part of the reason why Prison of Peace prioritizes training for people serving longer sentences.
Associations: Of the team members, I’m only familiar with Doug Noll, who wrote the excellent book De-escalate.
(Last updated 2/2/2021)
- Braver Angels, “Building a House United.”
The problem: “Affective political polarization (not only disagreement on issues but personal contempt and distrust) has been growing between us for at least 25 years… today, there is evidence to suggest that we are now as polarized as we have been since the Civil War.”
The goal: Political depolarization and civic health.
The method: Braver Angels gathers groups of 12-20 people representing both sides of the political spectrum. Those who self-identify as “reds” sit across from those who self-identify as “blues.” A trained facilitator then guides the two sides through a structured discussion, giving each side a chance to talk about their values, the negative stereotypes about their own side, what they don’t understand about the other side, etc. The process is intended to help people see the humanity underneath the other side’s political identification.
The brand: I think their branding is the obvious smart move. Formerly “Better Angels,” they use all kinds of Lincoln quotes and imagery. There is perhaps no other political figure in United States history with more bipartisan admiration than Lincoln. Braver Angels uses him as a cornerstone for building a common language of values and rights.
Other resources: They also released a documentary that shows one of their group workshops, and run a podcast.
(Last updated 2/3/2021)
- Weave: The Social Fabric Project
The problem: “35% of Americans are chronically lonely and 50% say no one knows them well. Suicide is rising. Violence, hatred and political gridlock seem normal.”
The causes of the problem: The values of tribalism, individualism, and meritocracy.
The goal: “Shift our culture from one that values achievement and individual success to one that finds value in deep relationships and community success.”
The method: Their website’s content is focused on encouraging individual action. They also say they find individuals who build communities and support those individuals, but I’m not sure how they support those individuals.
Associations: Weave was founded by David Brooks, whom I admire very much. You can see his shockingly honest TED Talk about why he founded Weave here.
(Last updated 2/3/2021)
- Center for Humane Technology
The problem: “Tech platforms make billions of dollars keeping us clicking, scrolling, and sharing. Just like a tree is worth more as lumber and a whale is worth more dead than alive—in the attention extraction economy a human is worth more when we are depressed, outraged, polarized, and addicted.”
The threat: “This attention extraction economy is accelerating the mass degradation of our collective capacity to solve global threats, from pandemics to inequality to climate change. If we can’t make sense of the world while making ever more consequential choices, a growing ledger of harms will destroy the futures of our children, democracy and truth itself.”
The goal: “align technology with humanity’s best interests” – in other words, create “humane technology,” which:
• Is values-centric and designed with awareness that technology is never neutral, and is inevitably shaped by its surrounding socioeconomic environment
• Is sensitive to human nature and doesn’t exploit our innate physiological vulnerabilities
• Narrows the gap between the powerful and the marginalized instead of increasing that gap
• Reduces greed and hatred instead of perpetuating them
• Helps to build shared reality instead of dividing us with fragmenting realities
• Accounts for and minimizes the externalities that it generates in the world
The method: CHT identifies 3 “levers of change.” They are “Educating the Public” through media like The Social Dilemma and the excellent podcast Your Undivided Attention. They “Informing Policy Change” by “Briefing policymakers in confidential sessions and public testimony,” and Supporting Technologists “through training, events, conversations, and advising executives”.
(Last updated 2/11/2021)
- Asteroids Club
The problem: America faces big problems “which are hurtling toward us through space and time at an alarming rate of speed.” But the distribution of attention to those problems is politically polarized. Liberals, for example, focus on the threats of climate change and rising inequality to the exclusion of the threats conservatives see, while conservatives focus on the threats of entitlement spending and family breakdown to the exclusion of the threats liberals see. We are separated by our beliefs and would be stronger together.
The goal: Cooperative political dialogue, thought, and action (practical political depolarization).
The method: Gather as few as two people, or as many as 8 to 15 people, :who disagree politically but are willing to mutually acknowledge that the other side may see some real threats more clearly than does one’s own side.” Hold a “non-debate on America’s biggest problems.” Acknowledge that these other people may have an easier
The motto: ‘I’ll help you deflect your asteroid, if you help me deflect mine.’”
The sad: it looks like their last blog posts were in 2014. The founder, Jonathan Haidt, has gone on to do many other interesting things in the realm of social psychology and the interdependence of politically opposite parties.
My question: It looks like The Asteroids Club website is defunct. What happened? And, more broadly, how does one create a civic-renewal organization that can sustain itself while making a positive impact?
(Last updated 2/12/2021)
American society seems to be falling apart.
David Brooks published an article on The Atlantic in October 2020 summing up his thoughts on our situation and where we go from here.
I wanted to understand his argument, so I reorganized and summarized his piece below. I also wanted to make his 17-page article more accessible, and my summary is 3 pages.
I intend this to be a fair characterization of Brooks’s argument with a minimum of my own interpretations and embellishments. If I want to praise, criticize, or comment on his argument, I’ll do that later in a separate piece.
What’s happening and why
- American society is falling apart.
“By early June , after [George] Floyd’s death, the percentage of Black Americans showing clinical signs of depression and anxiety disorders had jumped from 36 to 41 percent. Depression and anxiety rates were three times those of the year before. At the end of June, one-quarter of young adults aged 18 to 24 said they had contemplated suicide during the previous 30 days.”
- American society is low in trust (or high in distrust).
- Distrust is an accurate reflection of real social problems.
- The problems that cause our distrust include:
- Physical insecurity – “school shootings, terrorist attacks, police brutality”
- Financial insecurity – “By the time the Baby Boomers hit a median age of 35, their generation owned 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. As of , Millennials—who [are an average age of 32]—owned just 3.2 percent of the nation’s wealth.”
- Emotional insecurity – “more single-parent households, more depression, and higher suicide rates.”
- Identity insecurity – the uniquely modern stress of “self-creation,” of consciously choosing “your identity, your morality, your gender, your vocation, your purpose, and the place of your belonging.”
- Social insecurity – in the words of Fredrik deBoer, “For many people, it is impossible to think without simultaneously thinking about what other people would think about what you’re thinking… you’re always at the mercy of the next person’s dim opinion of you and your whole deal.”
- Our distrust reflects these unaddressed problems. But distrust itself is also a key problem. “Unless we can find a way to rebuild trust, the nation does not function.”
- Then, perhaps more powerful than any of the other causal factors, is the positive feedback loop of escalating distrust. That is, distrustful people are more likely to neglect or damage the resources we all share, i.e. “the commons.” And when people see that the commons are damaged, they withdraw their trust and are less likely to contribute to the commons. This is a self-reinforcing cycle.
How might this play out, for example, considering just me and my vote? Well if I think that all politicians are solely motivated by lobbyist money, I’m less likely to vote. If I don’t vote, worse people may be elected to government, and I will certainly have less connection with whoever is in government. That means I’m even more likely to think they’re sinister, more likely to feel discouraged when things don’t go my way, and I’m less likely to vote next time.
- If this positive feedback loop gets out of control, you can get trapped in a “distrust doom loop.”
- We are in the distrust doom loop.
- American society is falling apart.
We’ve been here before
- American society has been through this before. In fact, Brooks and others believe that America is on a 60-year cycle of growth, stagnation, destabilization, “moral convulsion,” then revival. The past instances of “moral convulsion” looked something like this, with items below listed in vaguely chronological order:
- Society seems to be falling apart under the weight of enormous social problems.
- There is a massive decline in trust. People become alienated from traditional authorities and values.
- Cultural values shift in reaction to unaddressed social problems.
- People see the problems and feel morally energized. They take responsibility for fixing the problems themselves. They engage in civic life.
- People build new organizations to address the specific problems they’re facing. These new organizations are built on the blueprint of the new cultural values, and their actions articulate those values in society.
- After the civic revival, there is frenetic political reform.
- Trust returns.
- Society returns to health.
- Reasons to think we’re in a period of “moral convulsion”:
- It’s been ~60 years since our moral convulsion (“the social-protest movements of the 1960s and early ’70s”).
- Society seems to be falling apart under the weight of enormous social problems.
- We’re experiencing a massive decline in trust.
People distrust institutions – they’ve actually come to see institutions as evil.
“Half of all Fox News viewers believe that Bill Gates is plotting a mass-vaccination campaign so he can track people… When Trump was hospitalized for COVID-19 on October 2, many people conspiratorially concluded that the administration was lying about his positive diagnosis for political gain.”
And we’re also in a crisis of interpersonal trust.
“In 2014… only 30.3 percent of Americans agreed that “most people can be trusted,” the lowest number the survey has recorded since it started asking the question in 1972.”
- Our culture is shifting right now in response to the “prevailing sense of threat.”
“In this period of convulsion, almost every party and movement has moved from its opportunity pole to its risk pole. Republicans have gone from Reaganesque free trade and open markets to Trumpesque closed borders. Democrats have gone from the neoliberalism of Kennedy and Clinton to security-based policies like a universal basic income and the protections offered by a vastly expanded welfare state.”
- So our challenge now is to successfully navigate the moral convulsion.
“Are we living through a pivot or a decline? …America will only remain whole if we can build a new order in its place.”
“What can we do?”
- Brooks thinks we can successfully navigate this moral convulsion by taking concrete, daily actions:
- Recognize our social problems. Feel morally energized.
- Take responsibility for solving our social problems – for fixing society. Ask “What can we do?”
- Extend trust to others even when you doubt it will be reciprocated. Believe in the goodness of other people. Don’t give up.
- Build new civic organizations to address our current social problems, including “climate change, opioid addiction, and pandemics.” These organizations will help us even more if they “provide rules to live by, standards of excellence to live up to, social roles to fulfill” – that is, if they maintain a strong sense of morality and social responsibility, and if people enter them to be formed into morally mature individuals and citizens.
- Alongside those actions, we also could benefit from some navigational thinking. Without a defined destination or roadmap, we’re unlikely to arrive at a place we’d like to be.
- Where are we going? What would we like our post-convulsion society to look like? Given the shifts to our values and institutions that have already taken place, how would we like to structure our healthy future society? Brooks thinks that “our only plausible future is decentralized pluralism.”
- How are we going to get to our ideal post-convulsion society? What kinds of institutions, laws, norms, social connections, and ways of thinking do we need to get there? This in turn informs what organizations we make.
I feel enormous sadness, fear, and anger.
Black people have been choked and shot on camera for a decade. Children have been shot. Children have gone to play in a park and never come back. I wish that pain on no person.
For this decade I have silently lived in fear. I have not wanted to speak and be criticized. I do not understand what my fear given me to keep me trapped, but it is no longer enough. If I were Black, anyone could shoot me, or my friends, or my family, or place me in a chokehold for eight minutes and forty six seconds. Since I am White, I do not pay for this injustice in bodily insecurity.
I pay for it in spiritual insecurity. I expect to receive my generous portion of respect, civil rights, and legal recourse precisely because the scraps are given to the Black half of society. My family’s intergenerational wealth is grown from the bitter seeds of the GI bill and redlining. My comfort is built on exclusion, death, and the silence of generations of White people.
I will not be silent. I will stand up and be counted. I will read, listen, learn, and speak.
I give a damn.
Black lives matter.
Love to all.
This is a story. The creator knows it is a tiny world, sacred. It does not use the creator’s name but tells the whole story of the creator like one thread tells the whole sweater. Today the creator looks at it, sees it precious, plucks lightly. It is not disturbed, has not noticeably changed since the last check. The creator, comforted, tucks it into its proper place, and it nestles and naps. The creator steps onto the street, strolls toward the bagel shop, and the story rides along in a pocket. It is not seen; its nooks are not known; the story is not rudely handled, jostled, criticized. It is perfectly comfortable. The creator knows that it will become restless – soon it will uncurl, stretch its legs, announce its readiness, and the whole world will make a space for it, sing to it, cheer it forward, and the creator will be the right person in the right place and the right time for it, and it will pop from the womb fully formed, joyful and perfect. A great many people will love it for its truth and hope and the creator and story will each be loved for their part in the other. Soon. Not quite today. The creator feels in his stomach that the story, between its meticulous untuckings and retuckings, has been growing and gaining power. It has its own volition. It will be a force. But not today, because as the creator savors the taste of anticipated prodigy and crosses the street to the bagel shop, a Prius comes through. It’s too fast for much feeling. Head and back and heels against the road, the creator untucks and retucks the story again. Makes sure it is comfortable. It is safe.
The star of Dagon is its texture: dripping rain and water, damp stone carved smoother than it should be, grating mollusk shells and teeth, rotten wood and rotten skin. The CGI is a weak point; it’s a movie with flaws and foibles. And it doesn’t wink at the audience like Re:Animator, or truly transgress boundaries like From Beyond. Dagon is about something more serious, more human, something that can make people skin other people alive: worship. Just know that on the path of worship you may find gold, but you may also find your hands too changed to hold it.
From Beyond is about the skin on your face: it is thin, ready to retract, gleeful to reveal the murk underneath. You will enjoy its peeling at first. From the moist humus of the flesh below will spring your ancient glands morphed into the sense organs of the future. This is a warning. If you explore your animal nature too deeply, it will change you permanently – to be reduced to a trembling schizophrenic is a light punishment. If you’re unlucky, you will become known to the deeper hungers. And to those predatory, bottomless, gooey appetites, “Humans are such easy prey.”
Re:Animator knows its purpose: it shows the ambition of men, the thirst to pierce and twist the will of others. Everything else is along for the ride and not to be dwelt on – the everyman and the love interest are rather bland, the cast is small, the sets are few. The movie’s flavor shines out like fireflies: David Gale’s eyes, Jeffrey Comb’s necromantic fluid, the doomed cat’s bright dark fur, all popping into and out of frame, never totally forgotten when absent, often funny when present, always surprising to see appear and disappear. Two words sum it up: brilliant fun.
This is a dream I had during the night of March 15, 2016. It inspired me to begin writing a novel. I still have the plans for it sitting around somewhere…
The dream felt like a movie. It was set in some 80’s world, kind of visually similarly shot to The Warriors. There was a clear protagonist, a young white male who was forming a band with his friends. They were starting to make it big (as per That Thing You Do, which I watched a little of last night) and got a gig at a concert house venue. They played there but a fire interrupted the gig, and for some reason the building was sealed to cut off the fire, but one of their band members was still inside. I remember in the dream it was 5AM and I was sitting in my car in a parking lot. I was, under the orange light on my dew-beaded windshield, waiting for something. I turned on the car and drove it. I got to the venue. I went inside with other people, maybe other members of the band.
The interior was dark, and then blue and a little smoky with the light coming in from the opening of the two big, metal doors. There was sort of a ring of wood around the interior. The ring was maybe ten feet wide with various things on it. In the middle there was a drop, and I came to see that in the hole there was water a few feet down. The band member that had been left inside had somehow been transformed into a pink rat, or maybe he had been that the whole time; but he was swimming around in this water and sort of clinging to objects that were floating in it, trying to stay up off the surface and trying to avoid something big and unseen that was swimming there. The fire had opened a portal to somewhere else; the water was lit from below with yellow light. The dream kind of ended there, but damn, it had a cool feeling of real art to it.
Written on 2017/9/1.
When I was a child you told me right here that all I needed to do was try my best.
How long have you been waiting tables, sleeping on the couch until noon, writing and drinking on the weekends?
Look, it’s not easy after what I’ve been through, I’m getting better and I’m getting out of this.
If your mother saw this she’d say the same thing, get out and go do something real.
You don’t know what we talked about – I’m making my choices and she always wanted that.
She wanted you to be successful, not with no friends and throwing up every Saturday.
We’ve had this conversation and you won’t talk about my friends, not after everything.
Then maybe let’s not talk and you can just never start turning around.
You think this is all about you, when I’m facing right where –
Of course it’s about me, it’s about me and your mom.
Really, you’ll use a dead woman to tell me how –
Have some respect, don’t talk about her that way.
Then keep this between the two of us.
The anniversary and memorial was last Saturday. They had her pictures all around.
Yeah, you already told me.
Did you see her?
I wanted to.
In 7th or 8th grade I composed this poem in a dream and recorded it when I woke up.
I think it strange
that I would ride
a car of dreams
or train of thought;
still I think it funny not.
It’s amazing how things can fade,
like the tinge on an apple
or a beautiful glade
So here I am,
with a banana as a bandana
and a sheep as a jeep,
blowing Nazis to hell and smithereens.
I wouldn’t like it to end this way,
but they are out to get me, say,
it would be me or them in the end.
Like the camel and his “humph”
people say, oh, it’s fair that way
but they aren’t in his body, are they?