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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Boats Going in Circles

Thousands of years ago, along the coast of a great ocean, there lived a small community of people. One day, early in their history, they gathered to discuss a fascinating question: What’s on the other side of the ocean? For as long as they could remember, nobody had ever sailed to the other side, and they were immensely curious. So they created a plan. They would build a ship and sail. It was a dangerous experiment, and many generations of people failed at first. Eventually, a group of explorers from the community discovered ways of building ships and sailing that took them across the ocean and back.

When the first explorers arrived home from their journey, they regaled their community with stories of other lands and peoples who lived on the other side of the ocean. They brought back ideas and artifacts from the other side to show their families, and, as a result of these new discoveries, their community began to change. One of the most positive changes was the travelers’ expanded understanding of the world. With a greater perspective, they brought back new ways of being, seeing, and questioning things that enriched and evolved the cultural wealth of the community.

It was eventually decided that each member should have the opportunity to experience the journey to the other side of the ocean. As methods for making the journey improved, the community began sending the members of its younger generations to travel across the ocean in their formative years. In this way, young people’s understanding of the world could become enhanced, and each member could add their experience to the wealth of the community at large.

For centuries, the practice of sending young people across the ocean sustained and enriched the cultural identity and wealth of the community. Over time, however, as agricultural and health-care technologies improved, the size of the community began to grow, and the ways that people related to one another began to change. In the earliest years of the community, the people had a great sense of clarity around their identity and purpose. The small size of the community made it relatively easy for people to be heard and hear others. It was understood that the intelligence of the community relied on individuals’ ability to openly and freely communicate their experiences in order to develop new frames of understanding and theories of action undergirded by a common goal. In that way, the community was able to co-create a shared sense of identity, understanding, and purpose. However, as the population of the community increased, the necessary cultural technologies for adequate communication and decision-making among such a large group were not enhanced to keep up. As subcultures and small communities began to emerge within the larger community, people began to disagree about the larger community’s identity and purpose.

The change in the community led to changes in the way people understood and desired to practice the longstanding tradition of seafaring. The tradition continued, but many people began to forget the drivers that led to its original creation: wonder, exploration, and the pursuit of personal and cultural growth. At the same time, the way that some members of the community thought about the core concept of wealth began to shift. The true meaning of wealth as it relates to a potential for psycho-social and cultural evolution began to be reimagined in material terms, and became related to gaining social status in an increasingly hierarchical society. Slowly emptied of its original intent, and divorced from the larger wisdom and history of the community at large, new generations of people began to appropriate the practice of seafaring for their own aims. Individuals began constructing confidently shortsighted plans for the ocean voyage.

Around this time, a group of adults who called themselves the efficient ones began a campaign to reimagine the ocean voyage for the growing number of young people in the community. They spoke about the importance of taking young people to “the destination” and enticed other adults to join the effort with promises of fulfilling one’s social responsibility to the community. Guided by their new understanding of wealth, they also came up with more efficient ways of completing the ocean voyage, so that fewer material resources and fewer adults would have to involve themselves with the development of a larger number of young people. In that way, a growing number of adults could divest and unburden themselves from the responsibility of taking their youth on the ocean journey in order to participate in an increasing competition for economic stability and social status.

The efficient ones developed a complex bureaucracy of adults who could each focus on a very specific aspect of the seafaring endeavor so that they could save time through specialization. Some people collected materials for the boat, while others worked on design. Some would learn to test the waters for safe passage, and still others would map the journey. Over time, social status and monetary benefits became associated with the type of work an adult did within the system. A new decision-making technology was applied where a select few would be given the authority to make decisions that affected everyone even though they didn’t have time to listen to everyone’s views. Those who took on responsibility for making bigger and bigger decisions earned the most status and monetary benefits. These people were called the big decision-makers. Those people tasked with implementing their decisions earned the least status and money.

As the task of creating the ocean voyage experience for young people became more and more complex, so did the boats they traveled on. On the original boats, everyone involved in the journey was openly exposed to the ocean, the sky, and the air. As the technologies for bureaucracy and boat-building became increasingly complex in service of specialization and efficiency, the boats became larger and included many different spaces for different people according to their status and job. In the bowels of the newer, more efficient boats were the offices of the big decision-makers, who received their information about the workings of the boat from their immediate subordinates, whose offices surrounded the big decision-makers. Those subordinates, in turn, received their information from other people who worked in various locations throughout the boat. At each juncture along the way, information passed on by boat workers to their superiors lost a pieces of its integrity, so that the information finally received by the big decision-makers was nearly empty of any reality or authentic experience, and it was with this information they made their decisions. By this time, overwhelmed with the minutiae of maintaining complex bureaucratic necessities, few people had much time or reason to leave their spaces below deck. As a result, few people aside from those tasked with cleaning the boat were ever exposed to the elements of nature or a view of the ocean.

Consigned to their central office below deck and the consumed with the task of making efficient administrative decisions about the journey, the big decision-makers became most insulated and out of touch from anything going on outside of the boat. Lacking the time to go above deck, to listen to youth and other adults on board, or re-experience the value of the journey themselves, big decision-makers came to rely on abstract representations of the reality outside their offices. Those representations included the views and attitudes of those most similar to them (their immediate subordinates) and numeric representations that the efficient ones had determined to be associated with success.

Meanwhile, those adults who’d been hired to row the boats below deck did not agree on where they were going, only that they had signed up to take young people to “the destination.” While most believed that their idea of “the destination” was probably the same as every other adult’s idea, most adults had actually become overworked and generationally disconnected from any strong sense of where “the destination” was. Because of this, many of the adults, isolated in unique compartments, rowed in different directions, which ultimately caused the extremely technologically sophisticated boat designed by the efficient ones to go in circles, never traveling more than a mile from its own shore.

Bogged down in their offices, and bolstered by a confidence in plans that had been created by very small number people from among the larger community, the big decision-makers found ways to imagine that the numeric representations of reality indicated that their decisions were moving the boat across the ocean. For example, at one point along the way, someone had mistakenly deduced that decreasing ocean surface temperatures indicated movement across the ocean, and so the big decision-makers ordered thousands of expensive thermometers to test the ocean waters at all times. When it was reported to the big decision-makers that the temperatures had decreased, the big decision-makers assumed they were crossing the ocean, even when it was a change in the seasons that had caused the drop. Remaining below deck, insulated from reality, and relying on gross misinterpretations of their inadequate representations, the big decision-makers did not see that, despite months of travel, the shore from which they left was still visible from the boat.

Some of the newer and more sophisticated boats still carried community elders who remembered earlier times. These elders went above deck often, drawn to the experience of reality and saddened by the psychosis that gripped the big decision-makers. However, as generations became used to the newer and more sophisticated ships and bureaucracies, most of the adults began to forget that there was an above-deck to visit, and, like the big decision-makers, became fully concentrated on their own representations of reality, which were largely framed by the ongoing communications they received from the big decision-makers about how the water was getting colder, and how that was a sign the journey was progressing.

So attached to their confidence in their system, the big decision-makers would sometimes get angry if reports about the thermometers didn’t indicate the water was getting colder. They would yell at the other workers on the boat about the water, even when the boat was moving across the ocean. In order to ease the stress and tension related to all the yelling, some adults and young people began bringing ice on their journeys. They would throw the ice in the water around the thermometers in order to soothe the nerves of the big decision-makers, regardless of whether the boat was actually crossing the ocean or not. At other times, those charged with reporting the thermometer temperature would simply lie so as not to anger the big decision-makers.

When the new kind of ocean voyages organized by the efficient ones began, most members of the community who remained on shore would watch bewildered as some ships went in circles just a mile or so off shore and then eventually returned. When the big decision-makers would step off the boat, having returned from their circles, the community would ask them what they were doing making circles out there for months. The big decision-makers were confused at first, acknowledging that they never actually made it to new lands. But, certain that their methods were sound, they began helping the community come to a new understanding of the ocean voyage. The big decision-makers talked to the community about the importance of cold water, and how cold water means good things for young people.

Every now and then, an elder would attempt to remind a big decision-maker about traveling to new lands or developing one’s perspective, and the big decision-makers would nod and say, “Yes, yes. We agree. That’s why cold water is important.” At other times, concerned members of the community would suggest that big decision-makers go above deck from time to time in order to assess the progress of the voyage. And the big decision-makers would say, “Yes, yes. We could try that. But also - we have many tasks to do in our offices to make sure the water gets cold.”

Over time, young people began to express disagreement with getting on board these ships in the first place. When this happened, the big decision-makers would use their status in the community to drown out young people’s voices with impressive charts that showed how the water on every successive journey was actually getting colder. They demonstrated the increasing coldness with ever darker colors of blue, and this convinced many people.

Exhausted by the increasing psychosis of the big decision-makers, and unable to convince them they ought to lower their bureaucratic workload to get out of their offices in order to achieve more direct experiences with reality, large numbers of people in the community began simply to adapt their understanding of the purpose of the ocean voyage itself. The new reason to go on the ocean voyage, it was said, was that the challenge of enduring a months-long journey in the bowels of a ship that went in circles was actually a beneficial process for young people. This was true because, as the society was changing, much of the rest of the its institutions had begun to mirror the same psychotic bureaucratic tendencies employed by the ocean voyage system. “This is good preparation for the rest of society,” people would say.

In this way, a ceremony that once fed a community and fostered personal and cultural evolution became empty of its original energy and intent, and was repurposed in a way that created opposite results. Lacking the technologies to foster true listening and communication among such a large group of people, the community ultimately disconnected itself from itself and from its truth, leaving many young people confused and bewildered by a community who’d left them to fend for themselves.

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