Sunday, April 24, 2011

Old World New Mind

In 1989, two renowned American psychologists, Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich, wrote a book called “New World New Mind: Moving Towards Conscious Evolution”. Their thesis, in essence, was fairly straightforward: humans had created a new world for themselves, but were still using an “old mind” to ineffectively deal with its consequences.

This mismatch meant that primitive fear and anger could potentially launch nuclear weapons, and that a mind wired for drama and stark contrasts simply could not detect and react to “slow change” - such as what we are seeing in climate change and the slow but sure consumption of the planet’s resources. By the time Chinese and Indians consume like Westerners, it may simply too late.

Ornstein and Ehrlich put forward an answer: humans can develop a “new mind” to deal with the challenges of a new world through a process they call “conscious evolution”. For this to happen we need to slow down our fast reflexes, widen our mental filters, see more “grays” in the world and approach the complexities facing us through holistic methods. Through a campaign of awareness and new forms of education that are focused on developing those parts of the mind currently slumbering, they believe we can make this transformation, thereby effectively saving ourselves from the spiraling dangers of our new world.

Above all, the shift will hinge on humans first becoming aware that they even have a problem, and realizing that their minds are operating according to methods devised to save us from saber-tooth tigers - and not from the environmental impact of carbon-based resources. Only when we become “conscious” of these limits, can we proceed to a new evolution.

In our blog “The Missing Piece”, we have attempted to demonstrate how the specific problems of the Middle East, especially the ongoing ethnic conflicts and their fall-out, can be approached in new ways based on novel understandings of our psychology and culture. We have looked at matters ranging from cult thinking, to conditioning, to the basic sources of extremism. We have also placed a heavy emphasis on the Human Givens approach of psychological understanding that describes the innate needs and capacities that all humans have, and that, if satisfied, eliminate mental illness.

In our view, meeting these needs will also diminish and even resolve conflict in the Middle East, and serve as the basis for the proper planning and development of societies there and in other regions.

The approaches presented in “The Missing Piece” are another way of understanding and developing “The New Mind” that Ornstein and Ehrlich propose.

Recently, we have seen the Arab countries go through unexpected revolutions that have succeeded in casting aside leaders and systems in place for decades. In the first few months of 2011, this "old world”, which is in a sense the oldest world, has leapt from a culture frozen since ancient times to a situation where positive evolution is at least possible.

The road ahead for the Arab world is difficult and unpredictable. The old mind may triumph. But the Arab revolutions carry with them a spirit of individual empowerment and functionalism that are largely anti-cult, anti-ideology and anti-authority, and which may yet carry the day even if the process is decades long.

The Arab people have risen up en masse because their needs - especially for legitimacy and dignity - were not sufficiently met by their rulers and governments. Today, they have the space to attempt to wrest control over their lives and build a future where their needs, their “Human Givens”, are indeed met and the problems ahead faced more constructively.

Ornstein and Ehrlich wrote their tome the year that the Berlin Wall fell. Little did anyone know that twenty-one years later another set of earth-shaking revolutions would occur, and that radical changes would begin in a most unexpected place. There are no assurances of success for this endeavor in the Middle East, nor anywhere in the globe for that matter. However, we believe that the dissemination of these ideas is crucial today to the solution of our problems and for the future of human development. As Ornstein and Ehrlich say to end their book:

“If this book stimulates some more people to think about the roots of the human predicament, and how we might begin to adapt to our society, then we will have accomplished our purpose. With luck, we will have started to change your mind.”

With luck, the Arab revolutions may also lead, against all odds, to an “Old World New Mind”.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Designing the Way Forward

“You can analyze the past but you need to design the future. That is the difference between suffering the future and enjoying it.”

- Edward De Bono

Psychologist and physician, Dr. Edward De Bono, has devoted much of his life to teaching and promoting the skills of creative thinking. He believes the greatest threat facing humanity today is the inability of most people to think effectively. Not only do we not know how to think, De Bono says, but we are not even cognizant of our inability.

The problem, he says, stems in part from the way our brains operate. Our minds tend to create patterned ruts in the way we organize and retrieve information, confining us to very linear and predictable trajectories of thought. We lack the skills needed to "jump the tracks" of our routine thought processes onto other needed tracks of thought.

But that’s just one problem.

The other comes from our deeply entrenched traditional thinking habits, which we inherited at the time of the Renaissance when Europe adopted the methods of Ancient Greek thought. According to De Bono, our society’s current thinking style is based on the Greek philosophical approach to dialogue - one that relies heavily on analysis, critique, logic, and argument and which assumes that you can arrive at all answers, including the truth, by exposing falsehood or attributing blame. De Bono calls this the “I am right, you are wrong” approach. This approach, which is a veritable underpinning of our society and which is characterized by ritualistic opposition, can be seen operating almost everywhere.

Although analysis and argument have their place, these approaches were never intended to be creative or constructive, and do not design new ideas. Politicians are especially skilled in this kind of thinking, which is one reason why so many conflicts seem to endure with no end in sight. Adversaries are too busy trying to prove each other wrong, or to attribute blame, instead of working together to find creative solutions. Other situations simply don’t lend themselves to answers by way of analysis. As De Bono says:

“In many problems we cannot find the cause. Or we can find it but cannot remove it – for example, human greed. Or, there may be a multiplicity of causes. What do we do then? We analyze it further and analyze the analysis of others (scholarship). More and more analysis is not going to help because what is needed is design. We need to design a way out of the problem, or a way of living with it.”

De Bono says that we all need to learn this DESIGN oriented thinking – in the same way an architect or a graphic designer thinks in terms of delivering value, or an end result. We also require the tools needed to be able to execute this kind of thinking.

The good news is that these skills can be learned. De Bono has created a number of techniques (and which are found in some of his books) to assist individuals and groups to be more efficient and design-oriented in their thinking. These include the approaches known as “Lateral Thinking”, “The Six Thinking Hats”, and the “CoRT” programme – just to name a few.

His techniques have been immensely successful and are being taught and used by organizations, corporations and schools throughout the world. De Bono has also created The World Centre for New Thinking and The World Council for New Thinking as vehicles to generate new ideas to address pressing global issues.

Although, we have reiterated on this blog that many of the problems in the Middle East can be understood in terms of unmet human needs, we believe De Bono’s thinking techniques can be valuable tools in helping to design ways and mechanisms to better meet these very needs and resolving the problems. His techniques can very much help to generate new ideas in tackling the many issues the region faces, be they demographic, economic, environmental, and developmental.

Below are links to De Bono’s websites, as well as a few sample ideas from De Bono on the Middle East.


“The Middle East situation could be eased if both Israelis and Palestinians were allowed to vote in each other’s elections. This would create more constructive governments.”


“The USA should give a grant of USD3 billion a year to the Palestinian Authority. This is considerably less than the amount given annually to Israel. The amount is about equal to the budget of the Palestinian Authority."

“Every time an Israeli citizen is killed by terrorism then the amount is diminished by USD50 million.

“After a period of one year, if terrorist victims have been significantly reduced in number (by fifty per cent or more) then the same system would be applied to the Israeli grant so that every Palestinian civilian killed would reduce the grant by the same amount.

“The amount is tiny in comparison with the cost of conflict and war in the Middle East and may serve to alter the perception that the USA fully supports Israel in all its activities.”

Saturday, February 12, 2011

More on Hall

In addition to a regular index at the end of his magnum opus, Beyond Culture, Edward T. Hall also provides what he calls an “Index of IDEAS and techniques of TRANSCENDANCE.”

These are the main themes of his book (written as maxims with corresponding page references), and which recur throughout his entire body of work.

They are important in that they help to underscore the important role of culture when trying to understand the problems of any given society (including in the Middle East).

The points might also be instrumental in helping Westerners see the profound need to much better understand the culture of the Middle East (and thereby their own culture in the process), as well as helping Middle Easterners see how critical it is to much better understand the West (while shining a light on their own culture at the same time).

We thought we’d include them here as a kind of addendum to our previous post on Hall.


Index of IDEAS and techniques of TRANSCENDANCE

1. an INDIVIDUAL cannot thru introspection and Self-examination understand himself or the forces that mold his life, without understanding his CULTURE.

2. CULTURES won’t change unless everyone changes. There are: neuro-biological, political-economic-historic and CULTURE-PSYCHODYNAMIC reasons for this.

3. CULTURE is dictatorial unless understood and examined.

4. “It is not that MAN must be in sync with, or adapt to his CULTURE but that CULTURES grow out of sync with MAN.” When this happens PEOPLE go crazy and THEY DON’T KNOW IT.

5. In order to avoid mass insanity PEOPLE must learn to transcend and adapt their CULTURE to the times and to their biological organisms.

6. To accomplish this task, since introspection tells you nothing, man needs the EXPERIENCE of other CULTURES; ie – to survive, all CULTURES need each other.

* The above extract taken from Edward T. Hall’s Beyond Culture, Anchor Books, 1976.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Dignity Revolution

Tunisia has fallen, Egypt is on the verge, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria are feeling the tremors.

Many commentators have mentioned that these revolutions are about bread, freedom, and justice, and they also frequently mention ‘dignity’.

Having used that word frequently to describe Palestinian needs regarding Israeli occupation, I sought a definition of this “keyword” and found: “the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect.”

This need for status and legitimacy in a community is basic and universal, and can only be disregarded at considerable cost. Certainly, Arab states have not offered their citizens this dignity, and now they are suffering the consequences.

Many Arab leaders have also failed to proffer dignity at another level. They are perceived as, intentionally or not, complicit in Israeli occupation, weak in standing up to Israeli actions - thereby striking another blow at the Arab need for dignity.

This reality explains the broad popularity of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hizballah, who through his words and war machine against Israel provides Arabs with that desire for dignity that most of their leaders have failed to deliver. This kind of ‘outward’ dignity regarding an enemy trumps the need for internal dignity, because, in the Arab world, the needs of the group supercede those of the individual.

Curiously, this may also explain why Syria, a tougher and more thorough regime of oppression than Egypt’s, may prove more resistant to revolution than other Arab countries. Beyond its ruthlessness, Syria’s ‘politics of Arab dignity’ and its support of resistance against Israel, as much as they are a facade, may provide a measure of immunity from popular revolt. Its refusal to “fold” to Israeli and American demands make it that much less susceptible to the “Dignity Revolution” sweeping the Arab world.

At the end of the day, it may be that the Syrian people may still find their government sufficiently lacking in liberties to warrant a revolt, but the pan-Arab sense of a lack of dignity due to Israeli oppression will nevertheless not go away. Indeed, the more democratic Arab governments will be, the more they will demand of Israel an end to occupation.

If Israel had any foresight regarding the future of the region, it would rush to create a Palestinian state along durable and fair lines (i.e. not interim, not partial and not in denial of history) and so avoid decades of future confrontation based on this profound Arab need. Although not a sure bet, it is the best one available. The status quo is the guarantee of conflict.

The real question at hand is what are the limits of this natural desire for dignity, and how does it take concrete form. Within Arab states, the need for status and respect will have to balanced alongside that for “bread” and freedoms, as well as the development of the necessary political culture and structures - a long-term proposition. Regarding Israel, the need for dignity will revolve around where Israel ends and Palestine begins in terms of borders, the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.

So far, Israel has rejected answering these basic questions, thus permitting radicals like Nasrallah to claim the need for dignity ‘ad infinitum’, in terms of both space and time. The responsibility of countries like the USA will be to insist that the need for redress for Palestinian, and thus Arab dignity, is answered fairly and squarely, and soon, by defining the limits of an Israeli and Palestinian state and the other cores issues of the conflict.

By doing so, it will be nipping in the bud a natural cause of Arab revolt and conflict against Israel for decades to come. All the bread, new political structures and development projects in the world will not make this basic, and universal, need for status and respect go away. Over time, the current Arab revolutions will only naturally also look to ensure that the Palestinians are also “worthy of respect”.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Beyond Culture"

If one is working on a project with Israelis and Palestinians, and an email is sent to ten colleagues from each side, nine out of 10 Israelis will rapidly answer, while only one out of 10 Palestinians will respond.

Therefore, Western diplomats, with working habits heavily centered around email, will have a tendency to engage the Israelis more, resulting in an increased impact of their views, as well as an unconscious sense of familiarity with the Israelis – unlike with the Palestinians who will seem disengaged.

Among other more well-known factors, this is a hidden reason for a traditional Western bias towards Israel: its work culture is Western.

Palestinians, like many Arabs, prefer a direct and personal work mode, relying far more on human rather than virtual interaction; and oral rather than written exchanges. This is simply a cultural difference, and one that must be adjusted for by diplomats working between the sides.

That is, if one is even aware of that cultural difference.

Edward T. Hall is one of the great cultural anthropologists of the 20th century. He has produced seminal books on the critical role of culture in our lives. Some of his works include The Hidden Dimension, about cultural differences in the use of space; The Dance of Life, regarding how people in different places perceive and understand time; and Beyond Culture, a summation and integration of his views.

His greatest contribution is that of revealing the presence of an “unconscious culture” in all of us that often goes undetected, hardwired into the deepest recesses of minds and affecting such basic perceptions as the employment of space, the regulation and response to time, as well as to our ‘extensions’: our technological and figurative inventions, such as email in the above example.

Hall elucidated how many human differences are often accounted for by these unconscious cultural habits. These deep-seated assumptions permit us to interact with our own group, but, if we are unaware of them, they can become the source of considerable frictions and misunderstandings with other cultures. Furthermore, if we are unaware of our own most subtle cultural underpinnings, it is most probable that so are the outside cultures that deal with us.

Hall maintains that people in any given culture assume, often wrongly, that how people behave and see the world can easily be carried over to - or be understood in - another place. Sometimes a culture will not imagine in its wildest dreams that an interaction with another is missing some crucial component of understanding of how the two differ in the most seemingly minor, or detailed (but important) aspect. Individuals from different cultures, say an American and a Frenchman, may believe they are each carrying on a predictable transaction when, beneath the surface, cultural expectations may reflect two very different, even conflicting, worlds…

According to Hall, there are three ways of bringing this cultural hard-wiring to the fore of our consciousness, and to realize the underlying pattern: 1) when raising our young and we are forced to articulate and explain to them certain habits 2) by learning about and interacting with other cultures, thus being confronted by foreign habits that may force us to examine our own, and 3) when old systems start to fall apart and the formation of new cultures is demanded.

This awakening to one’s own culture is the beginning of a “cultural literacy” without which we cannot relate effectively to foreign cultures. The assumptions built into us about time, space, social interaction, and other habits are working on “automatic” until this awareness sets in.

In the example of work with Israelis and Palestinians, western diplomats need to become aware that, by instinctively giving priority to email interaction, for instance, they are unintentionally preferring one side. Once this awareness sets in, adjustments can be made to the differing work habits of each side.

In an increasingly interdependent and interactive world, the need for cultural understanding is unavoidable. As old political and social systems begin to falter the need to develop new cultures will become a necessity, and not a luxury. This ability to create “the new” will depend on our ability to recognize “the old” in us, and how our built-in “unconscious culture” is affecting us today.

It is only when we see clearly what is today unconscious and hidden in us that we can transcend its limits.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Smile

The photographs of these two men, Jared Loughner and Mumtaz Qadri, were taken after each had committed murder and assassination in Arizona and Pakistan respectively. Their smiles betray a contentment with their actions that defies the logic of everyday life: they are more satisfied with their violent and deadly actions than many simpler folks are by more peaceful acts.

The two come from vastly different cultures, thousands of miles apart. The motives for their actions differ greatly: one was spurred by allegiance to his faith and a punishment of blasphemy, the other, for all apparent purposes, is a schizophrenic with unfathomable motivations. Both, however, express a grim satisfaction for their crime.

This sense of fulfilment comes from satisfying a belief system, whether highly personal in the case of Loughner or reflective of societal currents in the case of Qadri, that have replaced healthier and more balanced “lifescapes” that would not have led to murder.

We are living in an era when this smile may tragically become more common because, indeed, basic human needs for meaning and belonging are being skewed and hijacked by extreme ideologies, or simply left unattended to. In this case, indeed, ‘satisfaction’ can only be found in schemes of madness and radicalism.

A reversion to existing systems that focus only on material consumption and physical security, and ignore the importance of meaning will only, as we see, continue to empower extremists and seed insanity.

Satisfaction, and a different smile, can be achieved without violent ideals and purposes once the central role of meaning is recognized and nurtured in our lives. Once meaning is treated as a necessary ´human given´, and incorporated into normal social development, more creative, and less destructive, human effort will certainly result.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Conditioning II: Seeing Our Innate Susceptibility

To be able to properly see and move past the problem of conditioning, it is not enough to just acknowledge that humans can, and do, get conditioned. It’s also necessary to recognize the psychological factors that facilitate that process.

Our proclivity to being conditioned and adopting viewpoints that are not our own, stems, in large part, from a series of behavioral imperatives and patterns that arise early in life. These include:

  • a need for social approval;
  • emotional dependency on others;
  • susceptibility to authority figures

These are all key ingredients in understanding how and why we learn to think and do things, which we might not otherwise.

As children, we are at our most vulnerable. In order to survive, and to ensure that we receive the needed love, affection and nurturing, we must rely on our parents - who also happen to be our only reference points in the world. But that love and protection can be seen to be conditional upon obedience to them. So, as children we work to maintain our parents’ approval, and thus we learn to conform to their wishes. And that process includes imitating them. And here begins the process of childhood indoctrination - and learning obedience to authority.

So, how does this bear upon us as adults - and upon the problems of the Middle East?

The answer (beyond the implication that we tend to imbibe our own groups’ beliefs) is that this dependency on authority figures, established in childhood, does continue into adult life - except that the authority figures are no longer just our parents, but are other individuals in the wider world.

All societies are based on authority figures. And as we’ve seen from above, we become conditioned early on to showing obedience to them. So, in the same way that we work as children to gain the approval of parents and families in order to ensure their continued benefaction, we also work to gain and maintain the approval of authority figures in our society who also have other things to offer. These people can be friends, teachers, bosses at our workplaces, and political or religious figures.

This is no less so in the Middle East, where authority figures are especially powerful and vested with special significance.

Because the Middle East has for so long been organized along family, tribal, and sectarian lines, AND because the welfare of those entities have so often in history been seen to be under threat, supreme obedience to the dictates of the group has always been considered paramount. This is not only to help ensure the survival of those groups, but also the survival of the individual, who, without maintaining the approval of the larger group, can be cast out – or worse. Thus the mind of the member is more easily influenced. Beliefs become inculcated and reinforced.

This partly explains why conflicts in the Middle East are so enduring: the conditioning within a group runs very deep, and is facilitated and reinforced by implicit and explicit threats. Dissenting, or alternative views on the “enemy” - which can put the wisdom of any conflict into question - are very rare indeed.

Individuals in the Middle East who are used to being looked after and protected all their life by strong authority figures, and whose innate needs may be unmet, can easily gravitate towards the most powerful authority figures of all: political and religious demagogues. Those authority figures can provide them with the ultimate reassurance and protection – but at the price of accepting their extremist and fanatical agendas.

In the Middle East, allegiance to groups like Hizbullah or Israeli settler groups, or even loyalty to to local sects, may appear “natural” due to traditions of history; however, the mark of conditioning permeates these groups with unforeseen consequences for politics – conflict can most easily be created where there is no dissent from the group.

It is only when we understand the deepest motivations that drive our acceptance and championing of certain ideas, can we begin to make headway towards freeing ourselves from those fixed positions – those mental inclinations of outside origin which might be contributing towards something either counterproductive, or even destructive.