Teaching strategic advocacy

Following up on our workshop with Evergreen faculty last week, Roger Conner, Ted Whitesell and I are expanding and updating our website on teaching and learning how to be strategic. Here’s the text of the new home page:

About teaching strategic advocacy

How best can people learn to be effective change agents?  This website is for information about and discussion of teaching strategic thinking and action.

Policy advocates attempt to alter the arc of history, changing the course of events on matters important to the community. Some who engage in such advocacy are paid professionals. More are individual citizens and members of organized groups. Some are agency staff who find themselves in situations where they may affect outcomes.

Successful advocates know how to be strategic: They know what to do and when to act in complex situations with uncertain outcomes. Many courses and texts explain how to analyze a policy problem or explain why things unfolded the way they did, but few teach how to alter what is likely to happen in the future. People usually acquire that ability, if they do, through a process of long experience of observing others and trying (and often failing) themselves. In our experience, however, we have found that these skills can be taught, expediting learning them more quickly and completely. Curriculum for this teaching is a work in progress. We welcome your participation by replying on these pages or on the discussion page.

So far, this website includes

-Roger Conner, Ben Shaine and Ted Whitesell, project coordinators

Finger-Tip Power of the Muse

“When a woman calmly grazes the end of her … finger across any exposed skin on a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.”

Friday I was in conversation with two women friends who I now realize  are among my muses.

Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)—Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse (1891)—Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The Muses /ˈmjzɨz/ (Ancient Greek: Μοῦσαι Mousai; perhaps from the o-grade of the Proto-Indo-European root *men- “think”) in Greek mythology are the goddesses of the inspiration of literature, science, and the arts. They were considered the source of the knowledge embodied in the poetry, song-lyrics, and myths that were related orally for centuries in these ancient cultures. They were later adopted by the Romans as a part of their pantheon.

As we talked, one stood behind me, her hand lightly on my neck. I remember feeling that so many times with my wife Marci, when she was well and able to touch. It is the synergy between us here that is creative, what Lester Ward in his Glimpses of the Cosmos called “the universal constructive principle of nature.”

From Steve Horsmon’s recent post on The Good Men Project, entitled “The One Thing Husbands Love More Than Sex and Why They Can’t Tell You:”

Women’s jaws would drop if they could listen in on my conversations with married men. …


The Power in Her Pinky

The truth for these men lies in the end of her pinky finger.

In that finger is packed an unspeakable power many wives choose to ignore or have yet to discover.

When a woman calmly grazes the end of her pinky finger across any exposed skin on a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.

It’s so simple and so tender that men are afraid to even ask for it. We barely talk about it with each other! We don’t want to appear soft. We don’t want to risk a woman’s reaction to our weakness.

What is it?

It is the power of a delicate, skin-to-skin touch of feminine acceptance and approval.

When a woman calmly grazes the end of her pinky finger across any part of a man’s body and offers a verbal or non-verbal vote of confidence or support, his world changes at that instant.

It is so powerful we are often left speechless. Our throats and tear ducts begin to swell and we quietly indulge in the comforting reassurance of the moment. If we could package the word “love”, it would feel like this when the bottle was opened.

Our “well-being meter” pegs out and our heart rate and breathing slows.

Every husband I know is dying to feel this. Simple, easy-peasy feminine acceptance and approval. Nothing else.  Just…this.

Muses at Parnassas detail from a painting by Simon Vouet, circa 1640, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest
Muses at Parnassas, detail from a painting by Simon Vouet, circa 1640, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

“The name “Parnassus” in literature typically refers to its distinction as the home of poetry, literature and, by extension, learning.”

The gender relationships here are not bounded by a person’s biological sex; a man can give this touch to a woman, and human gender roles and identities are fluid.

(Thanks to Isabel Andrew’s blog Musings, etc. for the link to Steve Horsmon’s post)

Love Energy

I’m now clearly feeling love as a flow toward another person, or between two people. While it’s between individuals, the love itself is generic, a kind of energy (whatever that is), metaphorically like light or water. In the moment, I may have a lot of it, or little. Good relationships create more of it, which is then available to flow elsewhere. I feel myself in a force field of love that includes friends, family and acquaintances. Some connections are stronger than others. And flows can move more in one direction than another.

It’s like light, in that it illuminates the particularities of the beloved, the eyes, the fingernails, the smoothness or wrinkle in the skin, in a positive way, while in itself not any of these.

When I go to the gym or do warm-ups for Aikido recently, I go through a series of physical exercises involving feeling & visualizing energy (whatever that is) flowing into, through and from me along various lines. It’s not just mental; muscles, connective tissue and bones are aligning and moving. I think the genius of O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido, was to see such flows as love, translating combat imagery into love. He wrote explicitly about that. I think it can be seen as an interesting take on Jesus’s primary message. Practicing those flows, O’Sensei in his 80’s at 4’11” could respond to multiple simultaneous sword attackers with safety for himself and all of them. I’ve seen videos of that, and it’s similar to what I’ve felt personally with Saotome Sensei, who was his direct student, Mary Heiny Sensei, and other teachers.

Seems that anger and hate can be seen similarly as energy flow. O’Sensei started from aggressive energy in his Japanese combat training, and transformed it. This association of love and hate appears in Christianity in Jesus and the Devil, with the incarnation of Jesus a similarly transformative event. Christian mythology begins with the loving God. Satan rebels against that. Then there is competition between Jesus and Satan for ascendancy.

The Devil is the shadow and Jesus the light. – e.g., take a look at Ary Scheffer’s 1854 painting:

Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.
Temptation of Christ, by Ary Scheffer, 1854.

Christ is a Self symbol but lacks wholeness because he only includes the light side. He constellates the Anticrist, God’s other half and the shadow of the Self.

The metaphor of God as light appears in the burning bush and in God’s leading the Israelites through the wilderness for forty years with a pillar of light; the creation was initiated by God’s creation of light. “The LORD my God illumines my darkness,” Psalm 18:28; “The LORD is my light…,” Psalm 27:1. And Jesus carries that on: “…we walk in the light, as he is in the light…,” John 1:7.

In popular imagery today, “receiving the golden light of God:”

receiving the golden light of God

Notice the intense eroticism in this image. God’s love is erotic.

Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

A people-friendly community that chooses to be entirely without motor vehicles on land

I’m just back from a couple of weeks on Little Corn Island, a square mile of land fifty miles off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. It’d be a great sister city for my town of McCarthy, Alaska, and I recommend it to McCarthyites as a place to visit.

Little Corn has beaches, forests, a village on the leeward side, about 1200 residents who are mostly English-speaking creoles of mixed black heritage and Spanish-speaking mestizo people from Pacific Nicaragua, along with tourists who are mostly young and athletic snorkelers and divers staying in funky beach lodges on the breezy windward side. Although they use motorboats in the ocean, the community has decided to be entirely vehicle-free on shore: walking and bicycles only. There are paths, some paved, but no roads. “Mainstreet” is like a wide sidewalk.

A senior member of one of the local extended families told me that the elected island government made the motor vehicle-free decision with widespread support, though some younger people disagree. He said he’d been involved in lobbying through funding from Managua for paving the cross-island path to the windward tourist lodges and extending the electric line there from the village generator (operates noon-2am, when not broken), at the same time he supported keeping motor vehicles off the island. That position, pro-development with conditions to maintain quality of life for locals and unique attraction for visitors, of course reminds me of McCarthy.

Local young man working at a tourist lodge, barefoot with iPod
Young man working at a tourist lodge, barefoot with iPod

Although on the average materially very poor, the people I met are in general the happiest, healthiest and most upbeat I have encountered. The brightness in their eyes is as unique as what I used to notice in some residents of the Alaska’s Wrangell Mountains decades ago. That’s recognizing that my stay on Little Corn was brief, communication limited by language differences, and there’s much about the culture that I don’t understand.

Downtown Little Corn Island
Downtown Little Corn Island

Access to Little Corn is by boat from Big Corn, which has roads, vehicles and an airport with prop-plane connections to Managua. Most passenger ferry service to Little Corn is by open pangas that make the crossing from Big Corn in about forty minutes, depending on conditions. Panga drivers can string a long piece of visqueen plastic along the side of the boat, for passengers to hold up to shield off wind-blown spray.

A relaxed meal at Hatty's El Bosque restaurant
A relaxed meal at Hatty’s El Bosque restaurant

Recently, Little Corn has become a tourist destination. Most of the visitors I met are young people from North America or Europe traveling about the world inexpensively. Most of the lodging is in basic one-room cabins on or near the beach, though a few are more up-scale and a high-end ($300/night) version has opened on a secluded beach. Among other activities, that one hosts yoga retreats. In general, the basic lodges and restaurants are locally owned and the fancier ones, more efficient and clock-oriented, are foreign owned and operated. A meal in a locally-owned restaurant can take hours, including conversations among the guests and with the staff, which I enjoyed.

Other sources of income/sustenance I heard about talking with locals include commercial fishing, traveling globally as cruise ship staff, and subsistence on fish, fruit, cocoanuts, and other garden crops. Chickens are everywhere. Cattle graze on the uplands. I didn’t notice signs of hunger. Coming from the USA, the relative absence of overweight people on Little Corn and their erect posture was dramatic. I didn’t have much time on Big Corn, but heard from a friend that residents there are significantly heavier. Little Corn is different.

A man on Big Corn explained that he got most of his income from multi-month stints on a lobster boat crew. He said he got 10 cents/pound for lobster selling for $16/pound at Costco.

Land for sale
Land for sale

I noticed a number of affluent, new residences owned by expatriate foreigners, located in desirable locations with views and moderate breezes. One couple, who had moved from the US, kindly invited me into their home. I enjoyed helping with one of their projects, harvesting a piece of driftwood to be cut with their chainsaw mill for use in creative furniture construction. That reminded me of McCarthy. One person told me that in general locals see foreigners’ house construction as a positive source of jobs and not a problem, though limits are being placed on new businesses being established by outsiders. I’m not clear on the details of that.

My visit was a glimpse into an place that’s rapidly changing and unstable. Young children are playing everywhere, old people are infrequent, and so the population is evidently exploding. I don’t know to what extent that includes migration from the mainland. The beaches are rapidly eroding, with palm trees falling into the sea. I don’t know why. I went diving on the reef once, but didn’t return, because there were so few fish and the coral is algae-covered, I presume largely from overfishing. I heard that the local government had established a no-fishing zone encompassing the reef around the island, but had no means to enforce it when fishing boats came over from Big Corn. Depletion of the reef probably greatly affects the potential for tourism centered on snorkeling and diving. Tourism is quite new to the island, presumably rapidly changing, and I don’t know how the mix of local and foreign control is playing out. The island I experienced is clearly unsustainable.

Despite that and the material poverty, the evident joy, openness and self-confidence of most local people I met is impressive. I’m struck by the comparison with an American marine biologist, about thirty years old with a graduate degree, with whom I chatted at a beach restaurant. He was vacationing on his way back to the US for a break from studying sea turtles on Central American Pacific beaches. I found him cynical and depressed about what’s happening to the turtles and environmental decline. Here’s a person who has everything going for him, within the reality of the world: interesting, useful work with the possibility of doing some good; relatively vast material affluence and the ability to travel; youth and health. Yet I felt a deep unhappiness. All around him on Little Corn — I don’t think he recognized it, or the difference with himself — were people his age, living in the midst of that environmental condition, inescapably caught in its immediate consequences, uneducated, comparatively with nothing, yet happier, in an essential way I’d say more free. If he knew how to take responsibility for his own happiness, to see the possibility, what joy he could bring into the world, for himself and for those around him. And I suspect he’d be more successful in his conservation work, too.

What follows is my photo essay about the island, focusing mostly on the transportation/access aspects that make it interesting in conjunction with McCarthy and regarding the larger questions of the consequences of motor vehicles and the possibilities for conscious decisions about their use.

Before going to my photos, here’s a video from the high point on the island that’s posted on the website of Little Corn tourist info:

Little Corn photo essay:


Beach erosion:


Mainstreet in the village. No motor vehicles on the island, none, never, by local community decision, even though they freely and competently use motorboats on the water.

Traffic:IMG_3496 pigs sow and piglets





Paths and superhighways

(I’m not sure yet where this essay is headed. I’ll keep working on it. Among other things, it shows my method of inquiry. Perhaps you’ll find it interesting for that. If you have comments, I’d appreciate hearing from you.)

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius. --William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.
–William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

One of the secret strengths of the Ecole Normale, it must be admitted, is its ability to form independent beings, since it will take in wayfarers who turn away from the great superhighways. It was obvious that those who chose one of these would go far, but you must take into account a primitive need for freedom, for autonomy.

When I took my degree in mathematics, I too found myself in some sense on a superhighway, and my change of course and path, from the sciences to literature, I was not made in order to choose a different superhighway.

–Michael Serres, in his Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time with Bruno Latour. University of Michigan Press, 1995, 9-10.

horizontal white spaceThis entry began as a reflection into Serres’ use of “path” and “superhighway” to describe intellectual inquiry and careers. As a young scholar, he decided not to stay on the currently dominant superhighways.

That led me to sit with (in the meditative sense) photos of two types of landscapes, one with superhighways and the other with small roads and pathways. I felt the impression they made on my senses and was reminded of my experiences in these sorts of places. That developed my understanding of Serres’ metaphors in ways that go beyond the conceptual, engaging the psyche. Doing that helped me realize that perceptions through the senses, memories, the psyche and conceptual analysis all play back and forth to develop each other and expand understanding. It’s a way of learning: Begin with a metaphor, go into it in all these ways,  feel and see where it leads, illuminate the network of interconnections and nodes, expand them. At the basis is a contemplative attitude, receptive, respectful, curious, but also willing to test and challenge for veracity, accepting of the tension between the modes.

Note the differences between this method of learning and what we are explicitly taught in most schools. It’s more like the fine-grained wandering of pathways on a hilly landscape than a superhighway cutting through. (But note — see the photos below — that superhighways can also be beautiful.)

Then this morning I came across James Geick’s quotation from Blake in his Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman about strait roads and crooked, from the “Proverbs from Hell. The crooked pathways are the way of genius.

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

The voice of the Devil.

All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.

1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, call’d Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, call’d Good, is alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.

But the following Contraries to these are True

1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight

–from William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Pathways and superhighways:

Country road
Country road


New Zealand countryside
New Zealand countryside
Shanghai freeways at night Photo by Sung Ming Whang National Geographic
Shanghai freeways at night Photo by Sung Ming Whang National Geographic
photo by C.T. Seward
photo by C.T. Seward
Interstate 10 southeast of Casa Grande, Arizona, 1967 Federal Highway Administration The new interstates that were built to connect the larger economic and populations centers by-passed the small towns business centers. Hotels, gas stations and restaurants relocated to the large interchanges.
Interstate 10 southeast of Casa Grande, Arizona, 1967
Federal Highway Administration
Los Angeles freeway interchange
Los Angeles freeway interchange
photo by ngerda

The “Grand Myth of Scientific Superrationality” and Pinkwater’s Borgel (a Christmas story)

Shanghai Skyscape
Shanghai, China
photo by Peter Morgan
Seoul, Korea
Seoul, Korea, near by Han River
photo by Patriotmissile at the English language Wikipedia
New York City
New York City, Overview of Manhattan from the Empire State Building
photo by Hakilon

Starting into Murry Code’s book on Whitehead today, I have the sense that Euro-American imperialism hasn’t ended, but has shifted to a pervasive form that is transmitted culturally, so global now that it is generally taken as a given, invisible as the ocean is to the fish in the sea. At its core is

…a Grand Myth of Scientific Superrationality – the idea that science exemplifies the epitome of rational thought.

This powerful myth appears to be the principal support for an inherently violent and imperialistic reason. It would therefore be well for me to try to spell out what I mean by imperialism. Following Edward Said, I understand this to refer to ‘a political philosophy whose aim and purpose for being is territorial expansion and legitimation.’ But he goes further and notes that the term refers not merely to a violent conquest of foreign
territory; it also alludes to attempts to subjugate the belief systems of others. No modern mode of thought seems more efficient in this respect than science, whose usurpation of the vital function of meaning-making tends to be legitimated by contemporary natural philosophers who style themselves as naturalists even as they turn their backs on nature and anchor their philosophical investigations in scientific theories.

A culture that is in thrall to a burgeoning technoscience recalls, in other words, the Eurocentric imperialism of the nineteenth century that, as Said puts it, granted itself the right to intervene wherever and however it chose. Acting under the assumption that they were representatives of a superior culture, its agents set out with the conviction that ‘laying claim to an idea and laying claim to a territory – given the extraordinarily current idea that the non-European world was there to be claimed, occupied, and ruled by Europe – were . . . different sides of the same, essentially constitutive activity, which had the force, the prestige, and the authority of science.’ It is therefore ‘a serious underestimation of imperialism,’ says Said, to overlook the fact that a ‘hegemonic imperial design’ also presumes a right ‘to treat reality appropriatively.’ The importance of this observation is borne out by non-Western critics of the scientistic ideology who maintain that a sanitized violence has been institutionalized on a worldwide scale in the name of scientific values (e.g., efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and economy of effort).

Murry Code, Process, Reality, and the Power of Symbols: Thinking with A.N. Whitehead, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 2.

Alternative ways of being and doing are suppressed in the presence of this myth and its cultural and material expression. But I suspect, like the mammals living in the shadow of dinosaurs, that they will continue to evolve and survive, to re-emerge when conditions change in their favor.

Looking at the extent of religious expression in the midst of the Grand Myth of Superrationality, it seems that the dominant paradigm develops its own counter-currents as it becomes apparently monolithic, and within that complexity there is hope, actually more than hope: the expectation of possibility. I’m reminded of the Great Popsicle in Daniel Pinkwater’s Borgel (one of the great novels of all time), whose joyous life-giving characteristics re-appear in new forms when the previous form is suppressed and presumed exterminated.

Re-reading what I’ve written here, I realize it’s Christmas day, celebration of the liberating incarnation entering the world. It’s an appropriate time to reflect on dominating paradigms, the tendency to be constricted by them unaware of alternatives, and also their  impermanence and the possibility of release.

An example of a useful exercise in seeing from the other’s perspective

How the Repubican base feels now, from the Greenberg, Carville and Siefert study
How the Repubican base feels now, from the Greenberg, Carville and Siefert study

See Edsall’s Opinionator  commentary today and the linked report by Greenberg,  Carville, and Seifert, “Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans” for insights into perceptions underlying Republican animosity toward the federal government. I suspect few liberals are aware of these.

On a similar note, morning I enjoyed talking with a professional financial adviser this morning about his view that the Ryan budget provides a solution for most of the country’s problems.

Such views are quite different from mine, but I can see my own perceptions adjusting as I know these others better. How best to convey to students the benefits and power that come from an in-depth understanding of the other side that almost always changes your own perspective, as well as providing strategic insights into how to influence the situation?

The notion that your own position can be & should be adaptable/flexible seems key is often not understood, and that adaptability/flexibility is not the same as weakness/collapse.

I don’t yet know how to teach this, except through the physical analog of Aikido. How else can it be done well?

Insight into why Wilderness is a hot-button cultural issue

I hadn’t realized the value-based rather than resource-based aspects of the Wilderness Act mandate, until I came across the page below in a U.S. Forest Service Wilderness planning and  management document.

In this sense, the Wilderness Act is a legislated assertion of a human role in the Creation that differs from that interpreted by many Christian fundamentalists and probably others, i.e. congressional enactment of a religious position, rather than just a specification regarding land management actions such as roadbuilding.

Page from Landres et al_2008_Keeping it wild

An ongoing inquiry into change and stability in nature, politics and ourselves, by Ben Shaine