Escaping Uncertainty

The majority of human beings are only too ready to follow a leader who professes complete conviction, since such a course relieves them from the anxiety inseparable from uncertainty, and from the effort of thinking for themselves.

It is not difficult to point to recent political examples of leaders exhibiting single-minded confidence of a comparable kind, however narrowly based. As Norman Cohn demonstrated in The Pursuit of the Millennium, utter conviction lends charisma [...] to figures [...]

[Anthony Storr]
Freud, p.125




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The separation from wife and children, the breaking up of a settled establishment, and the going from the certain to the uncertain - all this was for a moment painful, but I had inured myself to an uncertain life.

I think it is wrong to expect certainties in this world, where all else but God that is Truth is an uncertainty. All that appears and happens about and around us is uncertain, transient. But there is a Supreme Being hidden therein as a Certainty, and one would be blessed if one would catch a glimpse of that certainty and hitch one's waggon to it. The quest for that Truth is the summum bonum of life.

[Gandhi]
The Story of My Experiments with Truth, p.235

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Entitlement and Accountability

One cost of the retributive conversation is that it breeds entitlement. Entitlement is essentially the conversation, "What's in it for me?" It expresses a scarcity mentality, and the economist tells us that only what is scarce has value.

Entitlement is the outcome of a patriarchal culture [...] if we create a context of fear, fault, and retribution, then we will focus on protecting ourselves, which plants the seed of entitlement.

The cost of entitlement is that it is an escape from accountability and soft on commitment. It gets in the way of authentic citizenship.

The weakness in the dominant view of accountability is that it thinks people can be held accountable. That we can force people to be accountable. Despite the fact that it sells easily, it is an illusion to believe that retribution, incentives, legislation, new standards, and tough consequences will cause accountability.

This illusion is what creates entitlement - and worse, it drives us apart; it does not bring us together. It turns neighbour against neighbour. It denies that we are our brother's keeper. Every colonial and autocratic regime rises to power by turning citizens against each other.

Accountability is the willingness to care for the well-being of the whole; commitment is the willingness to make a promise with no expectation of return.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.70-71

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Rebel Stance

Rebellion [...] lives in reaction to the world.

The community form of rebellion is protest. It is noble in tradition but still often keeps us in perpetual reaction to the stances of others. There is safety in building an identity on what we do not want.

The extremists on both sides of any issue are more wedded to their positions than to creating a new possibility. That is why they make unfulfillable demands. The AM radio band is populated with this non-conversation. Any time we act in reaction, even to evil, we are giving power to what we are in reaction to.

The real problem with rebellion is that it is such fun. It avoids taking responsibility, operates on the high ground, is fueled by righteousness, gives legitimacy to blame, and is a delightful escape from the unbearable burden of being accountable.

Blame, denial, rebellion, and resignation have no power to create.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.134-5

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Be Fussy

The task is to rearrange the room to meet our intention to build relatedness, accountability, and commitment. This puts the convener in the role of interior designer.

I spend my life being neurotically fussy about what room to meet in, and how to rearrange it once I get there. This is embarrassing, awkward, gets weird looks, and receives irrational refusals, and sometimes you just get tired lugging chairs around the room. But this is work that has to be done in a world not designed for human interaction.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.153

Dissent and Defence

Inviting dissent into the conversation is how we show respect for a wide range of beliefs [...] in a patriarchal world, dissent is considered disloyalty. Or negativism. Or not being a team player [...] Hospitality is the welcoming not only of strangers, but also of the strange ideas and beliefs they bring with them.

When we think we have to answer people's doubts and defend ourselves, then the space for dissent closes down. When people have doubts, and we attempt to answer them, we are colluding with their reluctance to be accountable for their own future.

All we have to do with the doubts of others is get interested in them. We do not have to take them on or let them resonate with our own doubts. We just get interested.

Listening is the action step that replaces defending ourselves [..] get interested in people's dissent, their doubts, and find out why this matters so much to them.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.130-2

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Ownership

The ownership conversation asks citizens to act as if they were creating what exists in the world. Confession is the religious and judicial version of ownership.

A subtle denial of ownership is innocence and indifference. The future is always denied with the response, "It doesn't matter to me - whatever you want to do is fine." This is always a lie and just a polite way of avoiding a difficult conversation around ownership.

Ownership is the decision to become the author of our own experience [...] It is the stance that each of us is creating the world, even the one we have inherited.

[...] each time people enter a room, they walk in with ambivalence, wondering whether this is the right place to be. This is because their default mindset is that someone else owns the room, the meeting, and the purpose that convened the meeting.

Every conventional gathering begins with the unspoken belief that whoever called the meeting has something in mind for us. We are inundated with the world trying to sell us something, so much so that we cannot imagine that this time will be different.

The leader/convener has to change this, in a sense to renegotiate the social contract. We want to shift to the belief that this world, including this gathering, is ours to construct together. The intent is to move the social contract from parenting to partnership. Renegotiating the social contract with this room is a metaphoric example of how our social contract with the community can also be renegotiated.

If I do not see my part in causing the past and the present, then there is no possible way I can participate usefully in being a coauthor of the future.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.123, 127-9

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"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We’re losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior."

In words so applicable to the rest of our politically-structured lives, he declared: "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people’s sense of personal responsibility dwindles." Monderman expressed the matter more succinctly in saying: "When you treat people like idiots, they’ll behave like idiots."

Formal rules divide us from one another; the more rules that are imposed upon our conduct, the greater the distances among us. Of course, this is the logic upon which the state always acts: to insinuate itself into our relationships with others, substituting its coercively-enforced edicts for our interpersonal bargaining. We become conditioned to look upon strangers as threats, and to regard political intervention as our only means of looking after our own interests.

What if the idea of living without coercively imposed rules was to spread from the streets into all phases of our lives? What if we abandoned our habits of looking to others to civilize us and bring us to order, and understood that obedience to others makes us irresponsible? As government people-pushers continue their efforts to micro-manage the details of our lives – what foods and drugs we may ingest; how we are to raise and educate our children; the kinds of cars we may drive and light bulbs we may use; the health-care we are to receive; our optimal weight levels; how we are to provide for our retirement; ad nauseam – might we summon the courage to end our neurotic fixations on "security?"

[Butler Shaffer]
'Anarchy in the Streets', online article here.

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My Advice? No Advice!

Trying to be helpful and giving advice are really ways to control others. Advice is a conversation stopper. In community building, we want to substitute curiosity for advice. No call to action. No asking what they are going to do about it. Do not tell people how you handled the same concern in the past. Do not ask questions that have advice hidden in them, such as "Have you ever thought of talking to the person directly?"

Often citizens will ask for advice. The request for advice is how we surrender our sovereignty. If we give in to this request, we have, in this small instance, affirmed their servitude, their belief that they do not have the capacity to create the world from their own resources; and more important, we have supported their escape from their own freedom.

The goal is to replace advice with curiosity. The future hinges on this issue. Advice, recommendations, and obvious actions are exactly what increase the likelihood that tomorrow will be just like yesterday.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.109

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Only through experience do we become aware of the inflexibility of other people's characters, and till then we childishly believe that we could succeed by representations of reason, by entreaties and prayers, by example and noble-mindedness, in making a man abandon his own way, change his mode of conduct, depart from his way of thinking, or even increase his abilities; it is the same, too, with ourselves.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.304

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Stop and Look

Since the Psychopathology of Everyday Life things have changed. This book isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception. For the entire spectrum of optical, and now also acoustical, perception the film has brought about a similar deepening of apperception.

By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action.

Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-flung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go traveling. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended.

The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject. So, too, slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones “which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions.”

Evidently a different nature opens itself to the camera than opens to the naked eye – if only because an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man [...] The camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

[Walter Benjamin]
The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, section XIII