The First Big Challenge of Life, Mastering Love

A friend of mine saw a man lying on the cold sidewalk in Seattle, without even a blanket. She gave him one, bought two mocha’s and muffins and sat with him for a few minutes, eating and talking. She wondered about all the people who were ignoring him. She hoped it didn’t mean too much.

Cognitive dissonance hurts

We often naturally invent that people deserve their circumstances. It’s one of many ways we avoid cognitive dissonance. Life is unfair. We don’t like thinking things are wrong, God’s wrong. We don’t like thinking “I should do something” outside of our planned budget and schedule- that feels wrong, too. We don’t like feeling guilt.

Empathy hurts

And there are so many millions (even billions!) of people hurting. We can’t empathize with them all, we think. We have to ignore almost all of them, most of the time. And in that effort to ignore, often we’re ignoring the pain as we walk down the street and pass someone lying down.

Kindness and connection

At times, almost all of us do acts of kindness. Our empathy gets the better of our inner fearful curmudgeon.

Some people seem to have an easier time connecting with love. Many of them have worked hard to tame the fears, insecurities and selfishness that separate us from love. Some of them simply keep putting in the effort.

The first challenge of life- reaching love

Perhaps that’s most of the work of the first part of life- mastering reaching out to love. Most of our parents try to teach us this, as do most religions and philosophies. But few parents have truly mastered the lessons. They teach as best they can.

I like to think I’ve mastered it. But it’s not true. I hope by now, nearing age 60, I’ve developed at least some mastery. Being committed to truth, I must admit that I, too, am merely a work in progress.

What’s next? Making a difference

Some people have told me they’re proud of me for my current efforts. It took a fair amount of courage to give up my job and work on PeopleCount full time. At the same time, I had to quell the fears of my wife and kids. Lots of people told me not to, to play it safe. Even my parents said that. But love won out.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. I did manage to put together a team for a short while. Then circumstances took away a key person. I didn’t quite have the skills to compensate. So I’m still trying. I’m trying to finish building the software, write the blog, connect with people and find funding. Probably I’m still making the same mistake- tackling too much at once…

If you’d like to make a difference, please do.

Introduction to PeopleCount, Political Power and Accountability

This is an introduction to PeopleCount and myself. It’s one (860 word) article, and points to a 2-part series about The Nuts and Bolts of PeopleCount, and a 6-part series about how Political Accountability is in our Blind Spot. PeopleCount is about a new paradigm for politics, one that can start in a few months, if I can get some support… Continue reading

America was Never Designed to Deliver Accountable Politics

We think America’s political system is broken in every way possible. It’s not- it’s working perfectly! It’s perfectly producing the terrible results we have. It was never designed to produce anything else.

The Founders were amateurs

We have a political system that was built by people with no experience forming a democracy. They never designed it to produce good results. They tried. And they did a good job for their time. But they knew nothing about design, sociology, or even communication compared to today’s experts.

After they designed it, they did no testing. After they launched, they identified no measures of success and measured nothing. Of course it doesn’t work very well. But in the beginning, it didn’t have to- it just had to create an appearance of national independence over largely independent states containing largely independent communities.

Idolizing their work keeps it lousy

The founders had great PR over the centuries. Americans are taught to be proud of our founders and their accomplishment. We could tell our children:  “The good ideas of our founders served America pretty well for about 75 years, till the civil war. Since then, it has only worked well when we were lucky. And boy, were we unlucky at times.”  But no. We teach them that America still has the best political system in the world. That’s the perfect thing to teach to ensure our lousy system isn’t fixed.

What’s needed? Accountability

If we started to design a political system, we wouldn’t even know the purpose of the design.  I looked into this a few years ago. Most people didn’t even know where to start. Or they picked unworkable ideas, like, “they’d do what the citizens wanted.”  I did some research. I talked to lots of people for a good two months.

What I found was this: We need it designed to deliver accountability to voters. That includes not being accountable to wealthy donors and special interests. But it’s not just “making Congress accountable in elections.” It turns out that’s almost no accountability at all. If Congress were truly accountable to voters, everything would change.

What’s accountability, and how can a system deliver it?

What IS accountability? That’s a great place to start- realizing our cultural notions about it are poorly defined.

How can a system deliver accountability? That’s another excellent question. Think about how long you’ve had complaints about US politics. Yet this is probably the first time you’ve considered this question.

These are new thoughts for most people. And few people understand new thoughts from reading. You have to read it slowly, absorb it and ask questions. Even better is, when you hear your mind arguing against it, realize your mind is thinking with ideas that keep the status quo in place.

Americans have been dissatisfied with government for many, many decades. “Throw the bums out” is not a new expression. All your current thoughts, even the ones that rebel against the status quo, are already part of the status quo. They’re part of the forces that keep the existing system in place.

Keep all this in mind as you find out about accountability.

How to Improve Education

Everyone seems to know how to improve education. And everyone’s right. I’ll give you my take on it.

What public education does well

At the same time, public schools do a lot of things pretty well. The biggest jobs that public schools do is to keep kids safe while they’re growing up. And during that time, they put them in somewhat age-appropriate environments where they can learn and grow. And many schools feed kids, or at least ensure there are social norms that include kids being fed. And many schools protect kids from the worst parents.

Many schools also are pretty great for kids who like to read and learn facts and do puzzles and math. Often schools have special programs for the gifted, so sometimes they do well, too.

Public schools are also pretty good at delivering a variety of educational subjects. They encourage reading and often have a library or encourage library use.

What public education does poorly

The main thing public schools do poorly is customize learning for the students. They:

  • Focuses on knowledge and testing, not learning to think and learn,
  • It groups kids by grade, rather than by, in each subject, current knowledge and, ability and their learning-mode
  • It doesn’t care what kids are interested in
  • It grades them, rather than just letting them earn mastery/accomplishment badges
  • It often punishes kids far too much for a poor decision

I say that generalizing education for all kids is bad. Similar, judging all public schools is bad. Some are pretty good. A few might be great.

I’d say similarly for teachers, but a bit differently. Most teachers are good or great for certain kinds of students. A few are great with many different kinds of students.

What government does poorly

Government believes that it makes good decisions. When I studied math teaching in 2002-3, good math teaching was illegal in California. Luckily the state standards changed. Unluckily, they didn’t change much. The state standards apply to kids depending on their grade level and have nothing to do with their interest or abilities. While most kids can master simple algebra by 12th grade, schools often start it in 7th or 8th grade.

What parents do poorly

There is NO consistency in parenting. Teachers can neither believe parents nor disbelieve them. Some parents have almost divine knowledge of what it takes to teach their kids well. Some parents think the worst possible things.

Charter schools are not the answer

Having a variety of schools in a district is good. Different methods and school cultures can accommodate some differences in students.

Charter schools are not a great answer, though, because they don’t do significantly better than regular schools. Plus they’re chosen by parents, who sometimes have a clue and often do not. And charter schools tend to have the same kinds of classes and teachers and principals, the same kind of grading and the same kind of testing. Like all schools, some are great and some are lousy. Often their teachers are new and poorly paid.

Plus they accept students usually by lottery, not by kids who fit their curriculum better.

But shouldn’t just the kids that fit that curriculum apply? Yes, but they don’t. Many or most parents and kids know little about “learning style.” Mostly, they just know when they want something better or different. Plus, charter schools favor kids who were there the previous year. So often a kid who doesn’t belong there will stay when they don’t really fit.

A piece of the education solution

If I were to design a solution, for elementary school, I’d loosen up standards and encourage different kinds of classes in each school and let kids pick their classes.

Where standards need to be applied is to teachers. Teachers need to learn about themselves and how they tend to teach and what kinds of ways to teach are possible. We’re learning tons about kids and brains and learning every year, but many teachers don’t keep up to date.

And kids should give teachers more feedback. Partly, this is so teachers get feedback. Mostly, it’s to give kids a world where what they say about their education matters. Plus, it’s to let them practice giving feedback. Kids can be more responsible for their own education if we have an environment that lets them be.

My request

Lots of solutions are possible. Most seem impossible. Let’s make your political world be one where what you think makes a difference. Let’s make a world where you’re actually a responsible member of The People, and The People control government policy. Please put your email address on our announcement list.

Think Different and Fixing Politics is Possible

Consider how wrong we’ve been. A complete lunatic is president. He’s doing blatantly unconstitutional things, irresponsible things, immoral things, dangerous things. And we:

  • Didn’t see it coming
  • Let it happen by not being able to rally behind a less-hated candidate
  • Let it happen by not being able to give third parties a chance
  • Couldn’t even get senators to question the electoral college vote
  • Have no way of acting together to stop him

And yet, people are trying the same things. Raise money, sue, protest, march, complain.

We do what we know to do, not what works

Those are all the things we know to do. They’re standard political things. They are completely inside-the-box of our current political system, the system that’s failing us.

Think! Is there a doable, quick way of fixing American politics? Think of the solutions you know- each one takes at least one political fight and at least one change in the law. Those are NOT going to succeed.

It’s time to try something new. Very, very few of you seem to be able to think differently. And when you try, you expect to see something new quickly or you think it won’t work.

If you read my blog, you know I’m very bright and it took me months to find a real solution. It’s pretty simple, but it goes against our usual thinking. The solution is simple, but thinking about it is difficult.

Remember when flying was impossible

Think back to when no one could fly. What took being able to fly was a small team trying over and over and over again. They started with not just a belief that it was possible, but an understanding of the fundamental problem that was preventing a solution. They solved that and flying became a possibility.
The well-funded team believed in more powerful engines. They had lots of backing and resources and they never flew. Why did they think they needed a more powerful engine? Because it was easy to think that. They knew how to think that so they pursued it.

Wilbur and Orville thought they needed better control and a light plane. They worked to be successful with what they had. And they carefully calculated what they needed, performed experiments and measured. It took them about 7 years.

Let’s do this with politics- think different

PeopleCount has a brand-new political theory, created after months of a new analysis. Unlike other theories, it predicts the current dysfunction. This new analysis suggested a solution and that has now been worked on for years, with a lot more analysis. Every single part has been analyzed and planned for. In many hundreds of conversations, no insurmountable problem has been identified.

It’s now time to put a team together, complete the first version and start testing. Please, do your part. Add your email address to our announcement list and make a small donation.
Yes, we need people. But no, making a new party or supporting an old party or a new special interest group to attack one little piece of the problem isn’t going to help. There’s no science behind that. In fact, it’s exactly our dedication to those strategies that has gotten us into this mess.

Please, think different. Support PeopleCount today. Look around. We can’t afford to delay.

Am I enlightened?

I started a comment on Facebook: “Being an enlightened iconoclast…” And someone called me on it, thinking I was bullshitting them. Was I?

What’s Enlightenment?

Enlightenment is basically knowing yourself as the actor, not the character, and knowing that your “understanding” of the world is created by your warped, inaccurate, erroneous, always-approximating and generalizing mind. An enlightened human is still human and at times, human dramas and emotions arise with a very tight grip. But over seconds or minutes, one can remember it’s all a mind-trip and detach from the drama.

It also means knowing “my property” is a cultural understanding, as is, “my hand” and “money.” The reality comes from our point of view, not from the objects. Stuff exists, but each “object” or idea is an interpretation. There’s no magic- one can’t fly. On the other hand, the meaning of “one can’t fly” is invented.
In particular, the notion of “me” is invented. We usually pick up the cultural definition, that given by others. But when you’re enlightened, you realize that “I” can be “Rand” or “my family” or “American” or “Human”. It’s really a choice. And like it’s purported to be, spending time dwelling in “me” being “everything” is a wonderful way of communing with “God”, without needing to anthropomorphize.

Enlightened inside a Western character

At the same time, I’m a westerner, living a life as a husband, father, employee, etc. Being enlightened, I have some choice about how involved I get in the normal, cultural, mundane life. Trying hard, in a marriage, a job, and/or as a parent, it’s difficult to be detached. It’s sort of lousy to be detached, too.

When you go swimming, it’s important to get wet. When running, sweat and breathe hard. The same thing in life- it’s important not to stay detached. Dancing is much more fun when you get into it and boogey down. Living life involved is much more rewarding.

But one can easily get trapped inside a persona and its limits. There’s anger and suffering too. I prefer to let those go.

When I was a kid, I skied. When you ski, if you’re too careful, you go slow and it’s not too much fun. If you go too fast, you can lose control and wipe out. It’s best on the edge.

Living on the edge of a character

I didn’t purposely come up with the ideas of PeopleCount. I was studying myself and politics and saw the bullshit of my own understanding- our cultural understandings. My background as a problem-solver helped. So did my inclination as an iconoclast. Once I saw the solution I was impressed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. But it needs to be done. So I began.

I’m not rich. It took me a while to detach enough to part with my salary to work full time on it. I did a fair amount of new thinking about the meaning of money. Is a guaranteed retirement more important than a healthy planet for my kids?

During that time, most of my family members were too fearful to be very supportive. There was plenty of drama. It was very challenging to be their rock and come up with the money necessary to keep two kids in college, cars repaired, expensive Obamacare health insurance paid for, etc, etc. My family and friends couldn’t support me much- I was working lots of hours on it and needed people beside me for hours. I needed partners, not 5-50 minute conversations with people who were holding back.

Being cut on the cutting edge

I found myself depressed at times. I’m a great problem solver, a fair mathematician and a pretty good software engineer. But business planning and marketing were a stretch. Networking and relationship-building seemed to be way beyond skill set. I failed a LOT. It hurt. I gave it everything I had at times. It was enough to open old scars that had been mended and closed for years.

The emotional pain built up. At times I had extreme depression. I even had a few bouts of crying for hours at a time. I had thoughts of suicide. Being enlightened, I knew not to take them seriously, but their emotional strength was enormous. They were extremely compelling.

Do you know that 14% of high school students contemplate suicide? 7% attempt it. Personally, I don’t think non-enlightened people should try extreme emotional trips, like adolescence…

Once I had a small injury and discovered the relief that a bit of stabbing pain can give. I  understood first hand why some people “cut.” Depression is real, and it meant parts of my mind were taking the circumstances very seriously. With work and support, I handled it. Life isn’t serious- that’s a choice. But knowing it’s a choice and applying it in the midst of depression are very different things. The latter takes enlightenment.

Enlightened credentials

My claim to enlightenment is supported also by 4 years of a correspondence course on the subject- a westernized, non-spiritual interpretation of an Eastern tradition that explores the depths of ego.

Plus I’ve taken many courses in applied self-study from the top-rated educational organization in the field. It comes to a bit more than the amount of class time and homework involved in a full year of graduate school. But when you consider that I studied my life from the perspective of these courses first over a very enlightening 4 years, and then again over a 5 year period, and then actively during my 5-year adventure with PeopleCount, I’d say it’s more like the work involved in a PhD and a 10-year career. 

10,000 hours is needed for mastery. That’s about 5 years of full-time work. I’ve put much more into it.

Calling myself enlightened is certainly bullshit. I say it’s enlightened bullshit. YMMV

Transition to a Better Democracy

In a week, I’ll be attending the Upgrade Democracy Unconference.
It’s very frustrating- I have so much to say! Luckily, I have my blog.
There’s a spreadsheet that lists various sessions. One is about Transition Strategies.

Theme Adoption Strategies
Title Transition Strategies
Description We all know better systems exist, the overlooked problem is:
What would motivate transition?

Marketing has the answer to this. There are two parts.

1. Entice people to try the new solution

Recommendations: Have authorities recommend the solution to their followers to address an existing concern. Have groups recommend it to their members to fulfill their stated purpose.

Compelling stories: The population targeted by democracy is “everyone”, which is useless in creating a story for a specific audience. The solutions are 1) to create a compelling story for the general audience, 2) segment the audience and create compelling stories for each.

Partnerships: Getting partners to market for you for their own benefit is a great way to expand your reach.

Media buzz: These days politics is especially dramatic. Many are worried. The media is salivating for a real breakthrough. Any solution should have a list of reporters and publications ready to spread the word. Plus, materials should be prepared for a social campaign. Exciting and interesting graphics should be ready for sharing on social media.

Advertisement: This is usually expensive and ill-advised for a start-up, but should be considered. There may be a specific audience that can be cost-effectively reached.

2. Give a rewarding and memorable experience for the effort

When people begin participating, this must be a positive experience. I’ve tried most of the political sites that have been launched. Few have been at all rewarding. A few users, such as myself, are willing to invest time to see how it works and what its promise is. You can’t expect that from most users.

Deliver the promise: The promise of the site must be tangible. While democracy is not an instant-gratification process, it’s a purposeful process. A few people do it to “be responsible”, but most participate to get results. Along the way they might get to express themselves, but this is not the purpose of Democracy. It’s to be heard, not to be expressed. If you want to be heard and acknowledged, you go to Facebook. While many want a “social media site for politics”, that’s a sloppy thought. If you can do it, great, but focus should be on making politics effective.

If the result is not there in the beginning, let the user participate quickly, be thanked, and leave. Don’t make them interact with endless content if it doesn’t mean anything- that is, if there’s no real reward. A “real” reward is a real goal accomplished or a real pain-point relieved- it’s not just a “thank you” for participating or earning a few points. For Democracy, this almost always means a real law changed.

Deliver on the promise: A new solution should focus on delivering real Democratic change, and soon. Luckily, in America, this is pretty easy. There are a number of things Americans are in wide agreement on. Any new solution should plan on delivering a real change quickly.

Above I said to let them participate quickly and get out. You also need a way to bring them back when it’s time to participate again or when real change is happening.

Imagine that America passed an anti-corruption bill. Or reversed Citizens United. Or ended the Electoral College. Or passed a term limits law. Or created a real solution for health care. Or changed our voting system to Instant Runoff or Approval Voting. Now imagine that you were part of that.

I’ve participated in lots of petitions. I was alerted about the success of a few of them, but I didn’t know if my signature made a difference. That’s not enough.

PeopleCount has a quick transition planned

Well, except for advertisement. If we need advertisement, we’ve failed.

PeopleCount is a real solution for today’s world. It’s purpose is to actually upgrade democracy by adding something few know is even missing- accountability. With that added, We the People will be able to finally wield the power we’ve been given. You’re welcome to find out more about our solution on this set of 6 blog posts.

Note though: PeopleCount has a great plan and most of the technology implemented. But we’re currently stopped. We can go no further without funding or a team…

The Solution to US Political Problems is Outside the Box

There is a solution to America’s political problems. It’s well thought-out, well-planned and requires about two more months of work to launch. Two great things about it is that it can succeed without a political battle and without using our dysfunctional political system. But I can’t finish it alone, nor launch it alone. I need a team and funding.

I’m sorry that it sounds so far-fetched. I’ve written extensively about it, but few people can hear it from reading. Consider this possibility: Our common truths about politics are not completely true, they’re cultural myths. And they prevent us from understanding an outside-the-box solution.

Unsolvable: Money in Politics

Money is a big problem in politics, but campaign financing laws are a lousy solution. They require that our broken political system fix itself. Plus they’re like the drug war- trying to reduce the supply instead of reducing the need.

Recall that this has been a known problem for decades. We even had campaign financing laws for years. Yet the problem kept getting worse.

Unsolvable: Corruption

Corruption is a huge problem in Washington DC. Half of US members of Congress and their senior staffs go on to work for the industries that contributed to their campaigns, as John Boehner did recently.

This problem is solvable. The American Anti-Corruption Act was proposed in 2009, but Congress has always been too corrupt to pass it. What do Americans want? A survey found 97% of Americans favor such legislation. But a solution that requires Congressional action simply won’t happen.

The real problem isn’t corruption. The real problem is a combination of members of Congress’ need for campaign funds and lack of accountability to voters. Since they’re not accountable to voters, they’re easily accountable to donors and the parties. Again, we’ve had these problems for many, many years and they keep getting worse.

Unsolvable: Apathy and Ignorance

American citizens are famous worldwide for our low voter rates and our ignorance about political issues. Many startups and non-profit organizations have tackled this problem with all sorts of better voter information. Nothing has worked. Voter ignorance in this last election highlights the issue.

In conversations with over 500 voters, I learned the two reasons for apathy and ignorance. First, what voters know on issues matters very little to most of them. Voters vote for people, not for issues. Almost no voters side with their party on all issues. Over time, elections have become a popularity contest, rather than about issues. Second, most voters find that the more they know, the more frustrated they are. The easiest ways to lessen the emotional pain about issues are to stop caring and to learn less about them.

Unsolvable: Parties

The two major parties have a lock on power, and they’re not giving it up. This is true even though 45% of voters register unaffiliated (independent), and 60% of voters think we need a third party. Again, while Congress is run by the two major parties and members are not accountable to people, this won’t change. In particular, Congress is very unlikely to adopt a voting system like Instant Runoff voting or Approval voting which can give third-parties a chance.

The Solution: Outside-the-box

These problems are all inside the box of politics. Everyone blames others. Inside-the-box is the standard political answer- we need a movement. But it hasn’t worked.

The solution is outside- create something entirely new which requires no changes in law. Give politicians ways to be accountable to citizens, and gives citizens ways to hold them accountable. This gets at the root problem which underlies the above problems. It also vastly lowers the amount of money a politician needs to stay in office. Politicians will be freed from being accountable to donors and parties.

For more information, see our article on accountability, and our How it Works page.

To make a difference, add your email address to our list and make a donation. And spread the word. Especially, connect us with people who want a real change in politics and can help fund our efforts so we can launch.