February 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to this issue of the Peace/Justice / Human Rights action edition!.

This newsletter carries on its experimental nature.  In particular, rather than having a list of clickable actions, this article steps back, examines the bigger, troubling dynamics taking place among the core audience, and gives some generalized actions.  They are broad in scope, but hopefully help us move along that moral arc that bends toward a more decent world.

Thus, they are meant as actions, long-term ones that orient, anchor and embody the vision for the well-being of all or the flourishing of life for all.  You may already be doing them in which case they are simply encouragement to continue.  If my 40-some years of doing this has taught me anything, it is that you can never tell when isolated-feeling actions that seem like nothing more than yelling into the wind, can suddenly coalesce and bring change.  We even see the potential today, in the #MeToo movement, and due to the recent Florida school shooting, the #BoycottNRA movement.  Who knows?

Note: the article starts with some concepts.  If you tire of them or simply don’t have time, please skip to Part D where the actions are considered.

Also, this subject inevitably contains strands of my views, eg, on human nature, which may not align with your sense.  Please – that is what this blog is for – I truly welcome hearing different views, especially given this experimental content.



Two years ago, this newsletter had a section titled “Fear Must Not Rule”. Recognizing the seismic shifts taking place in many parts of the Western world (for the rest of the world, it was just another day, whether good or appalling, although any resulting policy shift in a super-power like the U.S. could have a significant impact), it gave a brief list of changes needed.  This list is repeated below, along with a variety of other actions.  But we start with an analysis of the core dynamics and possible responses.



Political lens: Populism is a word often used today to describe a major shift in overall dynamics in the Western world and beyond.  While events like Brexit or President Trump’s election bring it squarely into areas that haven’t experienced it for ages, it is also part of a much broader dynamic. For instance, over the last few decades in Europe, right-wing populists have doubled their vote and now hold almost 14% of the seats (left-wing populists also gained).  Populists often do not take power but become influential by mobilizing the people and forcing the governing parties to tilt in a direction they normally never would.

What exactly is populism?  It is slippery in nature, as noted by its framing by Cas Mudde (U. Georgia) as a “thin ideology”.  By that he means it does not define one’s total outlook but only a part of it, specifically {simplified} the notion of some form of pure people and a corrupt elite.  So out comes some form of pure people (the “real citizens”,  true patriots, “the people”) and undesirable people (the “economic elite”, the “corrupt politicians”, “pluralist politicians allowing the undue foreigner”).

This “thin” form, being incomplete, then gets attached to a “thick” or complete ideology such as socialism, nationalism, anti-imperialism, etc., which can result in any number of views.

Just think of the differences among the Philippines & death squads, the U.S., France, Brexit, Poland (Kaczynski wants a Catholic takeover from secular liberal elites), Netherlands (Wilders wants ordinary Dutch including gay rights and to rid a multicultural elite who open the door to Muslims), Spain’s far-left Podemo which wants to seize vacant buildings from banks & give to the poor while attacking “la casta” {elite caste}, and so on.  That said, the focus here is primarily the major reach of this newsletter – the U.S. and North America.

Related concept: Informally, one’s view on the issue of human nature colours all this.  How “open” or malleable are people to change (related, see below, process of change)?  Somewhat related, for clarity, this essay presumes a “thin veneer of civilization” framing.  In society there usually is some undercurrent of that enormous ranging populist sentiment.  But when it (a) builds and (b) finds a leader who can tap into it or simply manipulate it, then the result easily pokes holes through that thin veneer, making the core issues harder to see due to the resulting hateful, racist, etc., dynamics that spill out, previously kept below the surface.

Human rights lens: Populism usually springs from one or more moral issues but becomes hijacked by manipulative voices.  Populism is a human rights issue because: (a) at its core there are moral issues; and (b) a populist leader by definition is a divider and that is contrary to the inherent equality of all.

Both proponents and opponents of populist sentiment easily subvert progress on resolving the moral issue(s): proponents by not articulating the core issue or by conflating thin & thick ideologies, weaving multiple strands into their stance, and later by allowing a manipulator to distort the core issue for their own purposes; opponents by often having a blind spot (see Bias, below), by not listening deeply enough (see Mindfulness), by caricaturing the other side.

What concerns this article is not simply populism but why did it emerge?  What has gone on for so long that a certain set of people have had enough?



While already we see the need to address “divisiveness”, we haven’t cut to the heart of any underlying issue.  For brevity I will use the packed shorthand analysis of Fareed Zakaria. For him, the roots of the West’s populist revival are threefold: (1) the convergence of opinion on economic policy, (2) the divergence of opinion on culture, and (3) a pushback against increased immigration.

Economics: Convergence.  Globally this implies the desire for {neoliberal} free, open markets and capitalist dynamics.  But it has also meant a converging push-back.  For instance, why does every trade agreement now transfer risk from the company to the country (e.g., oversimplified, NAFTA or TPP allows companies to sue countries if the country enacts something that diminishes the company’s profit)?  Who is making these rules?  Let alone, issues of transfer of jobs, capital, etc.  Or issues of automation and job loss.  Or stagnation due to an aging population and low fertility rates.  {Amusing aside: Steve Bannon and I share at least one thing: we both have a disdain that no one was held accountable for the 2008 economic collapse nor have safeguards been put in place}.

The points is simply that economics is one nexus of discontent, partly justified, partly misguided if the thought is to turn back the clock. I originally thought this was the main reason for the discontent in the U.S. Rust Belt and coal belt.  Given that I don’t live in the U.S. it took a while to see the significance of the next factor.

Cultural: Divergence.  As the economic dynamics converged (right & left both moved more to the centre; NOT implying sameness, especially with rhetoric) it meant the defining allegiances to a party became more cultural.  In the U.S. Clinton had pulled in more white-collar workers, making a greater urban-rural split.  I believe most people know where the LGBTQ battle will end, even if tragically they continue to battle it (just think how far race still has to go).  That leaves immigration as easy, low hanging fruit.  And in populist framings, it provides a common outside enemy, though not all share that view.  More on that in the Action section.  Of course, the Republicans also have other items in their three ‘G’s (guns, God and gays) that differentiate them.  See Dialogue section.  Within the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders is a clear indication of discontent at its establishment.



The following are just a few samples to give a sense of the wide range of arenas that feed the undercurrent that can become a populist wave.

1. Global Long-Term

  1. A moral issue arises from the basic neoliberal model. The Bretton Woods group (World Bank & International Monetary Fund) and World Trade Organization, as well as the Davos / World Economic Forum, do provide some structure for trade & direction. But they have a very mottled history skewing badly who benefits, disregarding the environment, and regarding the IMF, devastating many countries in the 1980’s.  Also, according the this Critique, they still pose many issues including in the developed countries.  The last WEF meeting has even recognized their role being played in the rise of populism.
  2. Trade deals like the dropped TPP, lack transparency and are largely formed in secret, plus as mentioned, transfer risk from the company to the country.

2. National Long-Term

Both U.S. political parties over the years have failed to tackle the issues raised in the February, 2016 newsletter (first five points) and others:

  1. Get unbridled money out of political campaigning;
  2. Create transparency in lobbying.
  3. Address the financial systems still unchanged after the 2008 financial crisis.
  4. Address the widening income gap – its chasm has become life-stifling and life-distorting.
  5. Provide robust oversight that can establish an appropriate surveillance balance between truly threatening activity and personal privacy.
  6. Put a severe cap on spending in political campaigns to level the field and stop the obscene amount being spent on elections.
  7. Address concerns of automation.

3. National Short-Term

  1. During populist times, immigration is usually one of the moral considerations. Many people feel that the U.S. immigration system is broken. It seems a majority feel the DREAMers should be allowed to stay (between 66% to 75%, ), though a vociferous minority feel  otherwise [NYT Jan. 25/18].  From the outside this seems like a classic letter-of-the-law (rules are rules) versus spirit-of-the-law issue, though muddier.
  2. Climate change predicts more severe weather, whether more droughts (& thus fires) in some areas or more storms (& thus floods or severe snowstorms) in other areas. There seems a disconnect between that and the makeup and cuts to the EPA.
  3. There must be a strengthening of the notion and location of fact-based sources, whether journalists (and a clarification between them and Op-Eds and opinion pieces) and also science and expert opinion.



The following is a brief list to help orient, anchor and engage.  They are a sample of the more than a dozen Conceptual Resources I have developed (nothing new here) to help maximize chances of success.

1. Be Well-anchored: This is the most fundamental action. One needs a basic sense of self-worth and dignity. Some already have it; for some engagement with yoga or Mindfulness or similar practices can provide the grounding (Note: it seems Mindfulness is even being used in schools to help youth. Example).

Self-assurance is essential for maximizing success when encountering a divisive world – when I encounter vitriol, I can keep the comment separate from the person and can keep treating the person as a subject (this is FOUNDATIONAL).  Also, if the comment is directed at me, it allows me to sift through it and just maybe see if they are saying something about me that I hadn’t realized, in which case – thank you – I am better off for it.  Yes, it can work that way.  For more, see Dialogue, below.

That said, one must avoid a couple pitfalls.  One is to wait for the perfect moment – it will never come (see section on Circles).  The other is it to be sure to go easy on oneself – for myself, my operative word is “bumbling” – that seems to be the best I can do, even after almost four decades of activism.  Things can happen fast sometimes – I can’t find the right words, don’t do the right thing.  See the next section.

2. Eyes on the Prize: There were two reasons why this became a classic refrain during the US civil rights movement (fuller: “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.”):

  1. They were goal-oriented – basic human rights – and wouldn’t settle for anything less.  There can be times when compromise is needed but other times it simply compromises the whole endeavour.  It takes wise people to know which way to go.
  2. It helps keep egos in check.  When everyone has their eyes on the prize I find no one cares whose idea is being used, only that some idea is advancing us toward the goal.  See Dialogue.
  3. Anything of value takes time – “Hold on, hold on”. Doubts are inevitable but they needn’t derail things.  As well, in a world of “instant” it can be discouraging when nothing changes immediately.  The above refrain maintains perspective – how many decades did that sentiment ring? . . . and even now it isn’t totally fulfilled.  Please, keep doing what you can, and hold on, hold on.  See Circles, below.
  4. Sometimes it is said that “it’s all about the journey”.  As that phrase is stated, I am unsure what it means, but the sentiment’s focus on Means is critical as a check that one’s Means and Ends are congruent.
  5. Related: Activism / Protests: A few specific points:
    1. Activism is firstly an admission of failure of the normal processes to handle the situation.  One shouldn’t jump to activism until one is sure there aren’t alternatives, allies etc.  As well, it helps track what is wrong systemically with the recognition that for the long term it must be rectified.  See “Process of Change” – there are other essential roles & maybe something other than protest is more suited for you.
    2. If you are timid or unsure about protesting, ease into it (“go easy on yourself”).  Be sure it is clearly called as non-violent; if possible, pick one that is family-friendly, maybe slide in partway through, etc.  Know the route or place so if you get uncomfortable, you can slip away.  Enjoy yourself – strike up conversations, look at the placards – there are usually some hilarious ones.
    3. Beware badges of honour.  We are all human – there is almost nothing we do that does not contain a self-interest element to it (that’s OK – it’s “in our DNA” & is why we survived as a species).  But the overriding motivation, whether simply going to a protest, or  doing something illegal, getting arrested, whatever, should be whether it advances the goal, not whether it in essence becomes a badge I can talk about later.  This is the balancing of integrity with the inevitable undercurrent of self-interest.
    4. Beware if you are getting angrier at the wrong things, like people.  If you are losing the ability to separate people from issues, it is time to properly re-anchor yourself.  Recognize that a disproportionate amount of pain is caused by people with personality disorders (eg, narcissism or worse).  In my mind, I get angry not so much at such types as the primitive society that hasn’t figured out what to do with such people, and that opens up new issues for advocating change.  That said, yes I am human and can get angry, especially if the person ordered the bombing of civilians, schools, hospitals, torture, etc.
    5. Consider carrying a placard (but if so make sure it is visible from 20’ – not the time to scrawl an entire thesis).  There are times when I am in general agreement but find it too simplistic.  Carrying a placard helps bring the nuance I want.

3. Biases: While biases have always existed, as a field of research it is fairly new. And highly valuable! For example, in a divisive world, Confirmation Bias (we tend to give priority to new information that confirms our existing stance) is partly what keeps us siloed. The Reference section list links outlining 13 biases, 58 biases and the full 175 biases.  Being aware of how subtly susceptible we can be to bias, and having at least a few common ones known, can become a highly useful tool to help open up a little common ground.  Doing a daily meditation on each bias might not be a bad idea.

4. Dialogue: Dialogue is the chief nonviolent, non-coercive tool for bringing about change. Ideally it has only two criteria: (a) Each person is authentically there; (b) There are equal power levels.  If there is a participant who is not self-assured, a good facilitator is a must.  Here are fuller Guidelines [UntilAll].

Diversity if often only given lip-service.  Dialogue allows full engagement.  I have an insatiable curiosity for how life works and that involves differentness, since understanding why people differ from me and what moral touchstones they base it on, etc., is fundamental to grasping how life really works and thus how best to help it flourish.  I know the last thing for true life flourishing would be clones of me, yet in the Other I feel I seldom get to engage deeply enough to question what I see as inconsistencies, which when fully engaged often results in me seeing my biases and also differing but genuine ways of processing reality.

In the U.S. today (& other countries with populist tendencies) dynamics have become so shrill and caustic that points (1) Well-anchored, (3) Bias awareness in self and others, and (4) Dialogue do remain the essential best starting point.  But the notion of Dialogue is also clear that it ceases when a participant becomes manipulative.  It is also suspended when a participant can’t provide any new discourse or insight, although a full sense of “dialogue with life” is more than just using words and nonverbal language; it can also involve physically going to a place to absorb circumstances never before encountered, etc.

When dialogue fails it then becomes a question for each person whether to move on to other strategies for change, usually increasingly more coercive (the following, or point 2.5 above).

5. Process of Change: Change has many stages and layers. Do something at the correct stage and things advance; otherwise things regress. I remember in 1970 being involved in what was then called “Pollution”.  Suddenly Greenpeace appeared with one of their attention-grabbing acts.  I cringed, feeling they were setting the agenda back a decade, just when awareness was starting to occur.

While I may have been right short-term, I was wrong.  In the end Greenpeace’s dramatic awareness-stage action increased discussion at an exponential rate.  They followed it up with explanation, a bevy of lawyers, etc.  In other words, they followed the stages and made inroads.  Now they are not paradigm of perfection, but it was a good lesson for me – my incremental ways were not necessarily the best way to advance things.

The main point is that there are several stages and layers and each one needs a different type of person.  The layers can be working outside the system, inside business, political, bureaucracy, legal.  So join a group and find your place in helping bring about change.

6. Circles: Awareness Facts, Action, Reflection: On a personal level a good model of growth of insight is to think in terms of an ongoing circle of awareness, facts, action and reflection. Done properly it becomes a spiral, honing in on better and better solutions each time.

Awareness: With a 24/7 news cycle and omnipresent social media, awareness of an issue is almost inevitable, although exactly “what” one is becoming aware of, is increasingly suspect.  Nonetheless it is always the starting point.

Facts:  One must never jump from awareness to action.  One must do their homework to establish whether the original concern is correct; what are its causes short and long term; what other factors are involved; what are the typical responses and are there better ones; etc.  In particular one must use all the above (congruency with overall goal, awareness of biases, or even if this is real or manufactured information, etc.) before deciding if or what action is suitable.

One must also discern when one has enough information to act, since research can be endless.  Naturally there are most often people and organizations who have already done the research and it is often mainly a matter of assuring oneself of their reliability.

Action: It can involve any or all of the above actions and many not listed.  Again, most often joining an existing, knowledgeable group is the best idea, although of course sometimes the issue calls for something new.

Reflection:  Openness is critical to success.  One must never be tied to a given course of action.  The whole point of this section is that one must have gauges that one can reflect on (are we advancing?  What are the next set of obstacles, openings, alliances and so on?)  Even once change has been made, it can unravel and continual assessment needs to be made.

Usually, from the reflection, comes new awareness and with that one cycles back, though as indicated, each iteration should hone in closer to the eventual best outcome.


What is Populism? [Dec/16; Economist]
What Is a Populist? [Feb/17; The Atlantic]
Is Donald Trump a Populist?  [Feb/16  Slate]
When a Political Movement Is Populist, or Isn’t  [May/17; New York Times]
Historians Long Thought Populism a Good Thing. Are They Wrong?  [Jan/18 Politico]
Fake History: Nazi Massacre Remembered as Its Opposite  [Jun/17;  Foreign Affairs]
Our Biggest Mistake in the Fight Against Fake News [Mar/17  Washington Post]
Europe’s populists are waltzing into the mainstream  [Feb/18  Economist]
On Biases (Serious subject, mainly Wikipedia level):
Some 13 Basic Biases [Huffington Post]
Deeper: 58 Biases [Business Insider]
All 175 Biases, Categorized By Problem They Solve [Better Humans]
Original 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for Work on Bias [Kahnemann Lecture PDF]